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The room on the third floor

Ramanath Ray

Translated from the Bengali by Palash Baran Pal




The house is three-storeyed. There are three rooms on the first floor. One of them is a kitchen. One of them is a drawing room. The other is a bedroom. In that bedroom, my wife Buri sleeps, and so do my grandchildren. On the second floor, there are three rooms as well. One of them belongs to my elder son and his wife. A second one belongs to my younger son and his wife. In the remaining room, my daughter lives. There is only one room in the third floor. I live there, alone.

I don't like staying alone all the time. Sometimes I feel like talking to Buri.

In the morning, my granddaughter brings tea for me. I take the cup from her hand and take a sip. Then I ask her, ``What's your grandma doing?''

``Drinking tea.''

``Please send her here after she is through with her tea.''

``Okay.''

Then my granddaughter takes a step towards the door, intending to go back. At this time, I ask her again, ``So, what are you going to tell your grandma?''

``I'll tell her that you want to see her.''

``Right. Tell her that it is urgent and important.''

My granddaughter leaves. I keep sipping my tea. When I finish the tea, I put the empty cup on the table.

A little later, my granddaughter comes again to take the cup back. She tells me, ``Grandma cannot come now.''

``Why?''

``She is chopping vegetables.''

``Why is she chopping vegetables? What is your mother doing?''

``She is cooking.''

``And your aunt, my other daughter-in-law?''

``Kneading the flour into dough.''

``And your aunt, my daughter?''

``Studying.''

``And you?''

``I will start studying now.''

I don't ask anything more. I don't want to know anything more. I just say, ``Ask her to come here when she is through with chopping the vegetables.''

My granddaughter leaves with the tea cup. I sit quietly in my chaise longue. There is a portion of the roof outside my room. Sunlight falls on that part of the roof. I don't go out in the sun. There are many books in the room. Sometimes I open a book and try to read. But I cannot read for a long time. I don't feel like reading.

Hours advance. I sit there, all alone. Buri does not come. I get angry with Buri. She has really changed these days. She was not like this. She used to listen to my words. Now she is surrounded by her children, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. She does not remember me. She has forgotten me. A little while later, my grandson comes with a glass of milk and half a plate of cream of wheat. He puts it on the table.

I ask him, ``Aren't you studying?''

``Of course, I was, just now.''

``Why did you leave your study to come here?''

``Because grandma asked me to.''

``Why couldn't your grandma come herself?''

My grandson, without giving a reply, takes a step towards the door, intending to go back. At this time, I tell him, ``Send your grandma once. I have something to tell her.''

``Okay.''

My grandson leaves. I eat the cream of wheat slowly. After finishing it, I drink the milk. After finishing the milk, I sit quietly, all alone.

A little while later, my grandson comes back again, to pick up the empty plate and the empty glass. He informs me, ``Grandma cannot come now.''

``Why?''

``She is making the chapattis now.''

``When will she finish making chapattis?''

``How am I supposed to know that?''

I don't ask anything more. I don't want to know anything more. I only say, ``Ask her to come here when she is through with making the chapattis.''

My grandson leaves. I sit there quietly.

Hours pass. When it strikes twelve, I feel hungry. I take my bath.

My younger daughter-in-law comes with a plate of rice and a glass of water. She puts them on the table. I ask her, ``Has your mother-in-law finished making chapattis?''

My younger daughter-in-law smiles and says, ``Yes.''

``What's she doing now?''

``Taking a bath.''

My younger daughter-in-law takes a step towards the door, intending to go back. At this time, I tell her, ``When your mother-in-law finishes bathing, please ask her to come here once.''

``Okay.''

My younger daughter-in-law leaves. I finish my lunch, rinse my hands and mouth, and lie down.

Hours pass. At some point, I feel sleepy. My eyelids tend to close. And then, suddenly I wake up at the sound of footsteps. My younger daughter-in-law enters the room to pick up the empty plate and the empty glass. She informs me, ``Mother cannot come now.''

``Why?''

``She is lying down in her bed.''

I feel bad. My Buri is not the same person that she was. She has changed. Now she just sends my food to me. She does not feel like seeing me.

My younger daughter-in-law wipes the table clean, and leaves with the plate and the glass. I go back to sleep.

When I wake up, it is late in the afternoon. I sprinkle water on my face and sit on the chaise longue. At some point, my daughter brings tea for me. I take the cup from her hand and take a sip.

My daughter sweeps the floor, does the bed.

I keep sipping tea and ask her, ``Did you go to college today?''

``Yes.''

``When did you come back?''

``Not long ago.''

``When are your exams?''

``Not soon.''

I cannot think of anything else to ask. After a small pause, I suddenly ask, ``What's your mother doing?''

``She is not home.''

``Where has she gone?''

``I don't know.''

``When will she be back?''

``She hasn't mentioned.''

I don't say anything more. My daughter finishes her work around the room. I finish my cup of tea. Then my daughter picks up the cup, and takes a step towards the door, intending to go back. At this time, I tell her, ``When your mother comes back home, please ask her to come here once.''

``Okay.''

My daughter leaves. I sit there all alone. Daylight wanes. Evening falls. Darkness spreads.

Maybe my elder son has come back home by now. My younger son will come back soon. Before his marriage, my younger son used to come home very late in the night. Sometimes he came back after midnight. We talked to him many times about his hours. All in vain. Now he needs no talking to. He comes home right at the fall of the evening. But he doesn't come to my room even by mistake. My elder son doesn't come either. They go to their offices and come back home. Sometimes they take their wives to movies. Sometimes they just chat at home. Sometimes I hear the sound of them talking. Sometimes the sound of them laughing. Once in a while I feel like going downstairs. I feel like talking to them. But who would want to talk to me? What do I have to say anyway?

Night deepens. I turn the light on in my room and sit there. I try reading a book or two. I cannot. I don't feel like it. I cannot stand printed words any more. I feel like having coffee. I call out for my elder daughter-in-law from my room. My elder daughter-in-law cannot hear me. I call out for my younger daughter-in-law then. My younger daughter-in-law cannot hear me. Then, one by one, I call out for my daughter, my sons, my grandchildren. None of them responds to my call. None of them can hear my voice. Finally I call out for Buri. Buri does not respond as well. Buri cannot hear my voice as well.

Night deepens further. I feel tired of sitting. I lie down. The bulb keeps on burning in the room.

At some point, my elder daughter-in-law enters my room, with a plate of chapattis and a glass of water. She places them on the table.

I get up and ask her, ``What have you been doing?''

``Why do you ask?''

``I called out for you for such a long time!''

``Really! We did not hear.''

What can I say? What is there to say? A few years ago, they would have had no problem hearing my calls. Now they don't have to. So I keep quiet.

My elder daughter-in-law asks, ``Were you asking for something?''

``I felt like having a cup of coffee.''

``Should I bring it now for you?''

``No, not now, it's alright.''

My elder daughter-in-law stands quietly for a little more time. Then she takes a step towards the door, intending to go back. At this time, I ask her, ``Is your mother-in-law very busy the whole day?''

``Why do you ask?''

``Because she hasn't had the time to come upstairs even once during the whole day.''

``I will ask her to come right away.''

My elder daughter-in-law leaves. I munch on the chapattis. I recall many things. Years ago, Buri and I used to sit down together for our dinner every evening. No one would eat the dinner without the other. We talked while we ate. At that time, this house was single-storeyed. We used to live in only one room. Gradually, we had our children. They started growing up. We needed more space. Our single-storey house became two-storeyed. I moved to the second floor. Buri stayed back in the first floor. She did not move to the second floor. Even at that time, we used to sit down for our dinner together. Then eventually my sons got married, one by one. We needed more space. Not for the children, but for me. One single room was built on the third floor, where I moved. Buri remained on the first floor. Since then, we did not sit down for our dinner together. I cannot climb down the stairs easily. Or, if I go down, cannot climb up easily. I have trouble. I lose my breath.

I finish my dinner, rinse my hands and mouth, and wait for Buri. Night becomes deeper.

In a while, my elder daughter-in-law comes back into my room. She tells me, ``Mother cannot come now.''

``Why?''

``She is taking her dinner.''

I don't ask anything further. I don't have anything to ask. My elder daughter-in-law picks up the plate and the glass and leaves.

I sit quietly for a while, all alone. Then, at some point, I put the bolt on the door. I switch off the light. I open the window close to my bed and lie down. I feel sleepy. My eyelids tend to close.

A little while later, I am awakened by a sound. Someone is rapping loudly on my door. I get up hurriedly and open the door. I see Buri, standing there all alone in the darkness.

What do I tell her now?



Published in Parabaas, June, 2011.



The original, titled Tintolar ghor (তিনতলার ঘর) by Ramanath Ray is included in his Collected Stories (Vol.1) (গল্প-সমগ্র, প্রথম খণ্ড), published by Banishilpo, Kolkata, 2000.

Translated by Palash Baran Pal [পলাশ বরণ পাল ]. (b. 1955) is a physicist by profession. He mainly writes research articles in his field of research, but ... (more)

Illustrated by Ananya Das. Author of several books and an illustrator, Ananya Das is based in Pennsylvania.

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