X and Y.
by Susmita Dasgupta on Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 8:52am ·
We referred to this gentleman as Y..da. The only thing I recall about him is that in the past thirty years that I have occasionally bumped into him he has never spoken. I never heard his voice. I think that I classify him in my mind as the man I have never spoken to. Y..da is one who recedes into the shadows at any social gathering. His wife, who we call as X di is beautiful, tall, with long dark hair falling straight and thick beyond the waist into a fat braid, her eyes always shining with natural kohl of her thick eyelids, her teeth framed as pearl and her body held gaunt and upright as her hips swayed rhythmically with every step. She is the personification of the stuff that the novelists in the 1970’s Bengal wove their pens with. I always wondered why this graceful and charming lady at all married a gawky and toad eyed man who always slipped back into shadows if you ever ventured to even greet him in your courtesy as the host of the party. Theirs was an arranged match, negotiated by parents through advertisements in Ananda Bazar Patrika. I was a high school student in the days they were married and in my first flush of feminism I realized that the parents of X di must have merely responded to the lines such as wanted a beautiful girl, tall, slim, fair and educated without ever wondering what the advertiser had to offer. Y da was dark, toad eyed, broad faced and without a personality to reckon.
Yet Y..da was supposed to be brilliant; he was an IITian, a class fellow of my pishemoshai. Pishe said that he was the class topper. Y da for most of the times I knew him had no job. He tried to do some business here and there but to no avail. X di did all the earning; she was brilliant too and soon found herself a teaching job in one of Kolkata’s top schools. She also did a lot of tuitions, she being a science teacher; students just did not stop flowing into her home. I never visited their home but my parents warn me never to venture anywhere near it. The reason was simple; the rented flat that they occupied for generations was so dilapidated that strong twines were used to secure a crashing stairway and a loosely hanging balcony. When Kolkata faced some mild tremors or got vulnerable in torrential rain, X di arranged to get someone to change the ropes. They were hard up for money because Y da never really earned and how much can a school teacher though loaded with private tuitions earn? definitely not as much to remain in our social class. So I, despite my socialisms never thought much of them. Perhaps so did many among us in the social circle. Yet X di was unfazed; she attended all the social functions with her usual confident dazzle, wore nice sarees and gave worthy gifts. Never did she let her money come in the way of her socializing.
They had two children; a girl and then after a few years a boy. The children grew brilliant. X di got them the best education. They rose and rose. They were soft hearted, modest, but brilliant. Soon they got wonderful offers with unimaginably high salaries. So the scenario around X di changed; she was now well rested, well nourished, well cared for in a plush flat that her daughter bought for them. The daughter never married though her qualifications, income levels and fair skin forever attracts a slew of proposals; I do not think that the young woman intends to marry because if she has to be a bread winner what does she want a passenger in the form of a house husband for. The son married and just bought a flat.
Y da died three days ago; his family is crashed. X di and the children are devasted; they say how they are going to ever live without the father. In a sense of ending, I go back to the story that I left thirty long years ago in Kolkata to think about Y da. How daft of me to never have noticed. Y da never could work because his professional pride did not find a suitable employer. He was a IITian topper and he deserved freedom to pursue his innovations to take India to the next level of technology. But he is of a generation when not technology but profits came to dominate and soon all IIT graduates would be selling chocolates and edible oils as IIM pass outs to earn salaries in order to have sprawling drawing rooms. Y da never cared for such plush; he had no problems staying on in sooted rooms without white wash for years; he wished to look after his parents and so he never ventured out of the city. All he wanted was to be able to do higher things in life those which necessarily did not give him money. His ethics did not suit the Marwari brand of business that was developing in Kolkata who laughed at the Bengali because all that brilliance could not beget money. He was too proud to work to make money for his employer. He lived in an idealized world of ethics and morality, of intellect and self-pride. Such a world was not to be and so Y da would recoil into his shell and never thought of interacting with anyone of us. All the while we looked down on him; he was probably the arrogant one thinking of us as being beneath him.
Anyway Y da stayed at home. He cooked, looked after the children, taught them, honed their brilliance and brought a sense of focus into their lives. He looked after his parents, kept them company and became the comfort zone to which his family could come home to. He was the one who shouldered the backroom tasks while his wife and children performed in the world outside. The success of his children, the bloom of his wife and the comfort of his parents when they died of old age bears testimony to the fact that Y da must have looked after the home very well. But these are unpaid services we never notice; not in women and even less so for men. And all the while at home, he taught ethics to his children, made them into good human beings even while they were unusually brilliant and now unusually successful.
Everyone is sad for X di, surely she deserved better than Y da. Even my eyes are so coloured by patriarchy that I never saw Y da in his place; my vision is so blurred by associating happiness and success with money that I never noticed how rich the family was in self-honour, pride and morality. While we talk of men as sharing the housework, allowing the wife to take all decisions, looking after children and having non-competitive sensibilities I realize how little we get to value such men should they be our husbands and sons-in-law. Y da died young considering that we get to live longer these days. May be he finally felt like a loser and so illness crept upon him and claimed his life. But he made a valiant struggle to hold on to his ideals and principles against patriarchy, against capitalism, against materialism. We were probably his class enemy and so he never opened up to any of us; I am curious to know who were among his conversation circle, or the adda circle as we call in Calcutta. I will ask my mother to find that out discretely when she attends Y da’s shraddha.