Chapter 1

Titles.

Sejo-bou bows to the tulsi plant, notices disturbance in the garden below and yells at a little girl, who runs away.

Ducking mother on the way, little Durga comes home. Old Pishi is away, so she places the stolen raw guavas in her bowl. Then pours milk and feeds the kitten.

Sejo-bou is still cursing Durga on her terrace when she spots mother Sarbojaya at their well and begins to go at her. A friendly neighbor, Nilmoni’s wife offers help to carry the pitcher but Sarbojaya declines.

Pishi is now back and eating in her veranda as Durga sits watching. Sarbojaya returns from the well, calls Durga away and scolds her. As Durga goes to return the fruit, Sarbojaya shouts at Pishi for spoiling the child. Angry, Pishi folds up her things—a mat, a couple of bundles and a lota—and leaves in a huff. Durga returns just in time and tries to stop her but Sarbojaya restrains her.

Night. Durga is asleep. Father Harihar anxiously paces up and down as Sarbojaya is in labor. Sejo-bou—she’s a relative—and Nilmoni’s wife attend to Sarbojaya.

Morning. Led by an excited Durga, Pishi returns the same as she had left. Durga puts her things in her old place and joins Pishi at the entrance of the labor thatch. Moved at the sight of the newborn, Pishi wipes a tear.

Pishi has taken charge at the cradle string while Durga sits counting her seeds alongside in the veranda. In the kitchen Harihar joins Sarbojaya and soon both begin speaking of their modest ambitions. “Being able to repair the house, send the boy to school, find a good husband for Durga and two square meals, what else do we need…”

Pishi sings a lullaby.

Chapter 2

Sarbojaya comes calling Apu, then asks Durga to wake him up. Durga is now an adolescent and Apu an easy smiling six-year-old. A glimpse of the morning routine suggests that life has remained much the same as before.

Sarbojaya and Durga fondly dress up Apu for school. Durga goes to leave him there.

Apu is at school. Or is it rather the grocer’s shop? It is both. The pot-bellied Prassana dictates a sum to a class of “nine gems” while he weighs and sells his wares, as also deals with some villagers collecting jatra subscription. But suddenly he can be less funny and has a defaulting pupil dragged to him by another for a round of supple caning. Seeing which Apu squirms even as a girl customer runs off.

Home. Pishi tries to pinch some chilli from Sarbojaya’s kitchen. She is checked in time by Sarbojaya. Pishi broods as she cooks in her veranda when Durga brings in front of her eyes, first one stolen guava, and then a second. That spreads cheer across the wrinkled face.

Sarbojaya calls Durga over for help. Then sitting in the kitchen veranda, she gives her a long sermon saying what a girl her age is expected to do. She also checks on her forehead for fever.

Apu returns from school with Harihar. He goes over to mother, says he’s hungry. Just then he is called over by Durga who, sitting under their window, quietly asks him to get something from inside.

Harihar is headed towards the kitchen when Pishi calls him for help. She shows him a large hole in her wrapper and is promised a new one by Harihar. Sarbojaya resents this and shows annoyance when he asks cinders for his hookah. He then settles down in the kitchen veranda next to her, but gets away when she begins to press him for money for repairs, for clothes, to return Sejo-bou’s loan of five rupees…

Apu gets mustard oil from the living room shelf for Durga’s tamarind paste. Then sitting under the window, both lick the preparation in secret—it’s too sour for him but Durga loves the tang.

Presently, the sweet-seller’s familiar bells are heard. Durga sends Apu to father for money but already knows they are not getting it. “Let’s go after him!” she says.

One little caravan they make—the sweet-seller with his dangling pots, followed by Durga, Apu and even a dog—and soon reach Sejo-bou’s house where a chorus of voices greets the seller. Durga and Apu enjoy the sight from the courtyard door. Then Durga is taken inside by one of the girls while Apu stays out. On the terrace Durga finds Tunu beading her necklace but the girl wouldn’t let her even touch it. As usual Sejo-bou had been rude and mean with Durga downstairs but here her daughter Ranu comes over and slips a sweet in her mouth.

Evening. Durga and Apu bring the cow from the fields while Sarbojaya and Pishi offer their brief prayers at the tulsi plant in the courtyard.

Night. Sarbojaya calls Durga away from Pishi for doing her hair. The unsuspecting girl even gets a tight slap this time. Both mother and daughter settle down in the veranda next to Harihar and Apu. Harihar is doing accounts as also supervising Apu’s lesson. Mother and daughter talk about Ranu’s coming marriage. Presently the night train is heard and the children talk of going and seeing it some day.

Pishi in her own veranda keeps trying to thread an impossible needle by the lamp flame to mend her wrapper.

Chapter 3

Sarbojaya is feeding a playful Apu as he trains his bow and arrow at a hungry dog. Then he begins to run about chasing his arrows and she has to give up. The dog gets the food.

Suddenly, Sejo-bou appears at the door. Tunu’s necklace is missing and Durga has stolen it, she declares. Where is Durga?

Sarbojaya is struck dumb. A child accompanying Sejo-bou goes in and gets Durga’s box, but there is no necklace in it. Just then Sarbojaya sees Apu making frantic gestures to warn off Durga and sternly calls her to appear.

Durga denies the charge, upon which Sejo-bou moves to grab at her, but she is held back by Sarbojaya who herself begins to search the girl.

Just then Pishi comes in dragging a large dry palm leaf behind her and wants to know the matter. But no one tells her. Only some raw fruit are recovered from Durga’s pallu and this draws taunts and counter-taunts from both sides. Sejo-bou scores reminding Sarbojaya the 5 rupees that she still owes her. Finally asking her to return the necklace when found, she troops out of the house. “Like mother, like daughter!” she declares to a passing woman outside. “A bunch of thieves!”

Sarbojaya is breathless with anger and humiliation. Durga is collecting her things in the box as Sarbojaya calls her over. When the girl doesn’t move, she grabs her by the hair and begins to drag her on the ground, past the bushes, towards the courtyard door. Pishi tries to intervene but gets pushed back. Apu merely watches by the post. Beating her all the way, Sarbojaya finally pushes Durga out of the house and slumps against the door exhausted.

The storm over, Pishi begins to collect Durga’s scattered playthings in her box, while Apu tiptoes across the courtyard to rinse his mouth from eating just a while ago. He’s back to the veranda, book in front and reading aloud, when mother calls out from the door. She asks him to go and call Durga for food.

Smile breaks out on the boy once again as holding his bow and arrow, he goes out bouncing, looking for his sister.

Chapter 4

The same night. Pishi is narrating a story to the children, with Durga lying in her lap and Apu in Durga’s. Pishi’s shadow on the wall could well pass off as the witch from the same story.

The session is interrupted with Harihar’s call. He has brought a large fish which Durga brings to the mother in the kitchen, but Sarbojaya still carries the day’s incident on her mind.

Harihar is bubbling as he washes his feet in the veranda. He has received his three months’ salary which he passes on to a much relieved Sarbojaya. Later, taking his meals in the kitchen he relates another happy incident with relish when somebody from another village came introducing himself and requested him to perform a certain initiation ceremony in his family. Harihar had been clever not to show his eagerness to accept immediately. Again they discuss expenses to be met from the salary: Harihar mentions clothes for children and a wrapper for Pishi but Sarbojaya wants to first return Sejo-bou’s five rupees. The repairs once again get postponed till after the Pooja festival but as always Harihar is upbeat. “Everything will be done, don’t you worry,” he tells her.

As they settle to sleep children exchange notes on the missing necklace.

Night train is passing as retiring to bed, Harihar mentions a plot for a new play that’s running in his head. Sarbojaya sits mending clothes by a lamp in the next room as children sleep beside. She asks him about the ghats of Benares where he had spent some years leaving her behind and whether they can shift there to make a living. Harihar dismisses the thought saying he had come back to the home of his ancestors leaving Benares once and can’t think of going back there again.

Sarbojaya takes a deep sigh. She is worried about having to live in a house like theirs. Says it’s like living in a jungle, with nobody to share your thoughts. She’s afraid when he’s away for days together but even when he’s there, he’s so carefree… There’s no response from Harihar; he’s fallen asleep.

Outside, sitting in her moonlit veranda, Pishi sings a boatman’s song with great devotion: A poor beggar am I, O Lord, the day is done, evening falls, ferry me across the river…

Chapter 5

Durga and her friends are playing at cooking in the jungle. Apu and some others help as girls cook on an improvised fire.

Pishi goes around showing off a new wrapper. A little girl pokes fun asking if she’s getting married.

Durga continues to conduct children with great gusto.

A woman washing at the pond asks Pishi where she got her wrapper from. Pishi tells her that a certain Raju gave it to her. Looks nice on you, says the woman.

Ranu comes running and joins Durga and others at cooking. Says her mother is away so she came. While going over ingredients that they have collected, Durga discovers that oil has been forgotten. A quarrel ensues but Ranu pacifies matters offering to go and get it.

Sarbojaya is airing new utensils and quilts from a large cane box in the veranda when Pishi tries to enter unnoticed. But Sarbojaya spots her wrapper and demands to know who gave it. She flares up on the mention of Raju and says if they can clothe her, let them feed her too.

A heated exchange ensues. An angry Pishi begins to pound something in her veranda while Sarbojaya takes out a tin trunk to empty it at the pond behind her house. Excited, she gets into a bout of coughing and drops the trunk, spilling its contents over the steps leading to the water.

Pishi leaves everything and comes over running to help and comfort Sarbojaya but Sarbojaya remains unrelenting: Pishi must go.

Durga and Ranu sit side-by-side enjoying the food they have cooked. Durga counts the number of days left for Ranu’s marriage and Ranu tells her that her mother too is looking for a husband for her. “Marriage won’t happen to me,” Durga keeps saying. “I know it won’t.”

A number of little boys run across chasing each other noisily. They pass by a bent, still figure of Pishi by the pond, wearing her new wrapper but once again homeless.

A dissolve later she appears at Raju’s door, announcing herself and asking if she can get shelter for a few days. “Only a few days,” she says panting, doddering. “There’s no peace at home. Nothing but complaints…”

The unseen Raju welcomes her.

Chapter 6

A drumbeat announces Durga pooja. The festival spirit is in the air with both children hurrying to rush as Sarbojaya adjusts their new clothes. Like others, Apu and Durga are headed towards the big household where Sejo-bou distributes sweets to hordes of outstretched palms. Apu and Durga get their share.

At night is the jatra performance which Apu watches with great involvement.

Next morning he is in front of a mirror trying to sport a tinsel moustache to a tinsel crown. Durga is at first amused, then suspicious—he’s indeed gone and used her scissors and material! After a hot chase in and out of the house, Durga pins him to the ground but Sarbojaya intervenes and separates them. Durga had wanted to go see Pishi but the mother now asks her to go and look for their calf. After a brief exchange of sobbing looks and tongue showing, animus dissolves and the children go running out of the village and into the open fields looking for the missing calf.

The time-ravaged courtyard door which Pishi is heard approaching. She now carries a stick and doesn’t look too well. Wants to spend her last days in her ancestral home, she says gasping, but Sarbojaya warns her of trouble if she didn’t go away instantly. Out of breath, she puts her bundle and lota on her veranda and sits down tired against the post.

Durga sits alone chewing at a sugar cane stick in an open field. Apu appears in the background but before he can catch up, Durga jumps off her perch and moves away. Apu follows.

Goaded by Sarbojaya, Pishi begs her for water. Sarbojaya sits eating inside the kitchen and merely takes the lid off the pitcher next to her. Pishi struggles to it with her lota and takes a pause to smile at Sarbojaya, but Sarbojaya holds forth unmoved. Pishi drinks water and brings the left over to pour over her stub of a plant. Then collecting her belongings she turns to take one last look at her veranda—already there’s a dog there—and moves on to leave. A momentary touch of remorse passes on Sarbojaya’s face before she resumes eating.

A crisscross of wires on telegraph poles as Durga stands listening to the hum below. Wading through stagnant water Apu joins her and tries to listen too. Durga moves on.

They are submerged in a field of tall kaash flowers where Apu briefly looses track of his sister. Then he receives a hit of the sugarcane stub and finds her sitting under a tuft of grass. He joins her and begins to ask questions. At one point she sits up listening, then stands up. She can hear the train.

Both children run towards the tracks to have a close look. Durga stumbles and falls early but Apu rushes ahead. Preceded by a growing rumble, the monster suddenly enters big in close foreground and begins passing uncut. Through the blur of wheels on the other side emerges the tiny figure of little Apu who is barely able to complete his climb to the tracks before the train is all gone. The whole sky is left filled with a long trail of smoke.

Apu and Durga are returning with the calf. On the way in the bamboo grove sits Pishi. Durga is the first to spot her and cautioning Apu behind her with a gesture, begins to soft step towards her. Apu watches from a lower position as Durga bends low to take a look at Pishi’s face sunk between her knees. But Pishi doesn’t stir. When she tries to shake her by the knees Pishi rolls over, her head hitting the ground with a thud. Apu’s eyes transfix with shock but Durga has as if been touched by death itself. Then scared as she gets up and turns to go, Pishi’s lota gets dislodged. It goes rolling down the slope finally landing into a patch of water, splashing as the children struggle with the calf and run away to report.

Pishi’s boatman’s song is heard as the pallbearers carry her away outside the village for cremation. The children sit in her veranda, Durga now where Pishi used to be. Harihar and Sarbojaya stand silently at the pond staring into the water.

Chapter 7

Dilli dekho…” It’s the bioscope-man come to the village. Apu and Durga stand watching from a distance as hordes of children converge shrieking to the magic box.

Harihar is preparing to go on a journey. He and Sarbojaya have collected his pieces in the main veranda. He’ll be back in seven days, he says. He’s hoping to get some regular income in a nearby town. “Then we can sit back and relax…”

He’s forgetting something—his umbrella, which he goes in to get. While returning he bows to the Ganesh idol on the way. Sarbojaya too, standing in the veranda, bows her head in prayer after him as he leaves.

Standing as before, Durga spots father and sends Apu over for coins. She then runs to meet Apu at the bioscope. Harihar sends a silent blessing to the children as they both stand peeping into the magic box.

Sarbojaya has laid out a number of preparations to dry in the sun. Durga comes in carrying a kitten and the mother sends her to fetch two-paisa worth of jaggery for a favourite dish of Apu’s.

Chitti! Chitti! Chitti!…” Apu comes running into the courtyard bringing a letter from Harihar. As Sarbojaya reads it, a shadow appears on her face. Yes, he has met the person who had approached him for the initiation ceremony, but there had been deaths in his family, and so—. But he would be proceeding to the town and will be back with money, don’t worry. Whatever God ordains can only be for their good. Blessings and love to the children—.

A mendicant approaches the house singing for alms. Depressed and lost, Sarbojaya remains sitting motionless on the steps while Durga comes to the door with a bowl of rice. “Bless you, little mother, may you marry a king!”

Night. Carrying the day’s worries, Sarbojaya sits awake next to the sleeping children. The night train passes and her mind is made up. Sarbojaya bends to kiss Apu and feels Durga’s forehead. Then she takes the lamp and comes to the other room. Here she opens her large cane box and takes out shining brass utensils.

It’s still early when carrying the brassware Sarbojaya opens the courtyard door and leaves. When she returns a while later, the morning mist has given way to patches of sun. Under her wrapper she has brought a bundle of rice, which she empties in her storage pitchers.

Chapter 8

A party of uniformed brass band players stand playing in front of the big house. Village elders watch with excitement and exchange notes. Apu runs up and jostles his way through a group of boys coming to stand right next to a horn-player. The unshaven old man plays as Apu watches intently.

Inside, fish and vegetables are being cut in large quantities. Sejo-bou supervises as women work. Her head bowed, Sarbojaya too is here among the women.

Ranu is being dressed up for the ceremony. Smiling contented, she looks at Durga who wearing a bindi and eyes lined with kohl, smiles back wistfully.

The marriage ceremony at night. An old priest conducts, chanting from the holy text. Durga looks even more remote.

Chapter 9

The storage pitchers are now empty. Nilmoni’s wife discovers this in the kitchen while Sarbojaya, deep in despair and sobbing, sits in the veranda outside. Nilmoni’s wife offers help and much against her refusal to accept, leaves behind some money.

Chitti! Chitti! Chitti…!” Apu brings another letter—and gets slapped for being too playful. But this time the letter carries good news. Harihar has at last found some means of earning money and is returning soon. It seems our luck has turned at last. Whatever God ordains can only be for our good…

The famous, sublimating, water-lily sequence. The pond, flat leaves, dog, kitten… At the end Sarbojaya lies on the veranda floor, drained and exhausted.

The gentle wind begins to gain strength and thunder to roll. Durga has had a bath and now hurries through planting a sapling and saying related prayers. A carefree Apu is returning from school.

Sarbojaya comes to as Durga runs away closing the courtyard door. Apu too throws his schoolbook and wrapper through the window and runs off. Sarbojaya calls after them as she begins to take the drying clothes off the line.

The first drop of rain falls on a bald pate fishing by the pond. Soon it’s a big downpour all over. Both Apu and Durga bathe in the fields. Apu takes shelter under a tree but Durga keeps taking the rains in full. Going round and round in the open and teasing Apu, she finally joins him under the tree. Then wrapping her pallu around him begins to recite a song asking the rains to go away.

The rain beats on as Sarbojaya is returning home carrying a large edible leaf. Near the pond on the way lies a fallen coconut. Checking to see no one is looking, she snatches up the fruit under her pallu and continues as though nothing has happened.

That’s when Durga gets her first sneeze under the tree. And then, a second.

The village doctor, a phlegmatic old man himself, examines Durga with a stethoscope. Nilmoni and his wife are present. The doctor prescribes sago which Nilmoni’s wife offers to give. He also recommends wet-cloth application on the forehead if fever goes up. “There is nothing to worry about,” he says. “Don’t let her catch a chill. Come on Nilmoni, let’s go.”

As the grown-ups leave, Apu draws to his sister. “Listen,” Durga tells him. “When I am well, we’ll go and look at the train again, alright?” “Yes,” Apu smiles.

But just another day, the sweet-seller’s bells are heard as he passes on the other side of the pond. Strangely Durga has no interest in him.

Night. The children are asleep and Sarbojaya is changing the wet cloth on Durga’s forehead. The earthen lamp is lit with a steady flame.

Sarbojaya is about to doze off when the wind is heard building up into a stronger gale, sending the door creaking and the gunny sheet covering the window bulging. Changing the wet cloth, Sarbojaya almost waits for them both to give way. The first to fall off is a corner of the gunny curtain, letting the rainwater in. And even while Sarbojaya is tying it up comes off the wooden cross-latch of the creaking door, which she returns to block with a tin trunk. But there’s hardly anything she can do to stop the growing flicker of the flame. Or the sway of Ganesh idol.

She is bending over adjusting the quilt when Durga suddenly throws her hands up for her. Leaving everything, Sarbojaya holds the child in a tight cheek-to-cheek embrace.

The final round of thunder and lightening flashes repeatedly on the shaking idol.

Chapter 10

A grey morning. Little Apu stands knocking on Nilmoni’s door. Didi is not well, he tells Nilmoni’s wife, so mother has asked him to fetch her.

They both come wading through puddles in the courtyard. The hardest hit by the storm has been Sarbojaya’s kitchen which lies all damaged and exposed. The cattle-shed by the courtyard door was always a temporary structure but a part of the main veranda is now roofless.

Inside Sarbojaya sits with Durga’s head on her lap, motionless. Nilmoni’s wife sends Apu away to call her husband and moves closer feeling Durga’s pulse. She then sits down facing Sarbojaya on the bed and gently takes her head on her shoulder.

Follows a montage showing little Apu cleaning his teeth all pensive at the pond. Sarbojaya draws water at Sejo-bou’s well, her bindi smudged. Apu is getting ready—bath, combing hair, everything—now without help. Somewhat wiser, he even returns from the courtyard back into the room to re-emerge with a man-size umbrella, before setting out on the familiar road to school. Pishi’s veranda is now the kitchen where Sarbojaya sits lost in front of a boiling pot. She doesn’t even respond to Nilmoni’s daughter who has brought some vegetable. The girl leaves them on the floor and backs away.

But then Harihar calls and Sarbojaya wakes up with a start. He’s calling the children as he approaches past the pond and discovers the beating his house has taken. A tree has fallen on the outer wall damaging it in a big way. The fragile door, oddly, is still there through which Harihar enters and again calls the children. Instead Sarbojaya appears from behind and vaguely receives him, getting him the jug to wash his feet. Somewhat relieved, he sits down on the veranda floor itself and eagerly begins to show her various things he has brought one by one. A rolling pin and a board, a framed picture of goddess Laxmi and, finally, a sari for Durga—.

That’s when Sarbojaya’s floodgates open. As Harihar presses the sari to her hands, all her pent up grief wells out in one continuous gush and she slumps down weeping bitterly, uncontrollably and with complete abandon. Harihar is first bewildered, but when the full impact of the tragedy strikes him he starts to rise in confusion, then sinks collapsing over Sarbojaya’s sprawling body. Finally he gives out a full-throated long-drawn wail.

Apu, already a little man with an umbrella and an oil bottle, listens to his father’s agonized cry reaching him outside in front of the pond.

Night. The family is in bed; their worries transferred, Sarbojaya and Apu are sleeping while Harihar lies wide awake. The night train is again heard passing and a decision made.

Morning. Glasses on the nose, Harihar sits dusting and sorting the ant-eaten sheaves of paper in the roofless veranda. Apu keeps running up and down bringing out household things. They are winding up.

Elsewhere in the house, Nilmoni’s wife helps Sarbojaya with sorting and packing other household goods. Sarbojaya has lost all attachment with the ancestral home in the last one year and thanking the good neighbor for all her help, blames it on their fate. Nilmoni’s wife wishes them well in their new home.

Comes calling Sejo-bou with a basket of mangoes. Says they fell in the storm the other day and that she’s brought them for their journey. No, she’s not angry with Sarbojaya for not telling her they are leaving. Rather she’s pleased, very pleased. “Staying years after years at one place makes a person mean,” she says confessing. “It’s happened to me—.”

The village elders come to meet Harihar. They have heard that he’s leaving for Benares. One of them reminds Harihar that his three generations have lived in that house which they are now leaving and asks him to think again if that is the right thing to do. But Harihar is sure, says he can’t forever be living on debts. All his hopes for making a living as a writer, of educating the boy have come to nothing. He hasn’t even been able to repair the house. And as for the girl, he says shaking his head, she gave them the slip. “So it’s right for us to leave,” he concludes. “There are times when you have to give up even your ancestral home.”

Inside, Apu tries to reach the high shelf for a coconut shell. It trips and falls—spilling a spider and Durga’s stolen necklace!

Stunned, Apu picks up the find and stares at it silently. Then on a flash, he jumps out of the window, climbs over the damaged wall and comes to the pond.

One long throw and it lands in the water. Apu remains staring as the floating carpet of green closes in where the necklace fell and disappeared. It’s all but closed.

The deserted courtyard, with the clothesline fallen loose on the ground.

Between the broken bricks of the veranda a snake slithers slowly, sinuously. It goes crossing the floor towards the room, finally disappearing into it.

But Harihar, Sarbojaya and Apu are safe. The family sits under the matted arched roofing of a bullock cart, moving. Harihar takes a deep sigh. As the dawn prepares to break, sad to leave, but on the move.

_________

 

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