Raikishori, a novel by Suchitra Bhattacharya (January 10, 1950 – May 12, 2015)

“I am Raikishori Mitra. Mitra….or should that be Chaudhury? No, none of the above I am Rai, just Rai…..Raikishori. Don’t let my name fool you into thinking I am some sort of paragon of beauty like Krishna’s lover in Vrindavan. Far from it. I am quite ordinary, rather plain in fact. Like any other typical Bengali woman. Full lipped, a little dark, round of cheek. My nose is nothing special either. But my eyes, bless them, are rather beautiful. They are large and shapely, like a spotted deer’s. These are not my words, but what I have heard people say. They say my eyes speak before my lips do, they cry, they smile too. My mother says I inherited them from my father’s mother. I never got to meet her. She passed away before I was born. I have seen a photo; just the one. I think it was taken soon after she got married. With my grandfather. The two of them in one of those historic poses. One sitting on a chair, like a heroine of a play, shy eyes in a glance bent to the ground, the other leaning on the armrest like Pramathesh Barua in ‘Mukti’. She was certainly beautiful. She shared that beauty among her children. My elder aunt got her complexion and my younger aunt got her beautifully shaped hands and feet. My father got some of her nose and her forehead. His elder brother had her lips and her chin. The rest of my father and my uncle was like their father. Long limbed, hairy chested, slightly inclined forward. My younger brother is exactly like my father. He had a chest covered with a carpet of soft curls almost as soon as he got his first beard. Our older brother was different; more like our mother and her side of the family. I am more like my mother too. Only my eyes have somehow come to me from my grandmother via my father. Perhaps this is how ancestors leave parts of themselves when they are gone.

What I am driving at is that I am not bad-looking. I might not be able to hold a glance for ever but people do take a look. Sometimes I like them to look. At other times, it is so annoying. Like right now. Look at the man seated right in front of me. He looks decent enough. Sunglasses, a briefcase on his lap. Look at him, puffing away at a cigarette and looking at me with hungry eyes. These days I can tell what each look coming from a man means. Between the ages of sixteen and seventy, men cannot control what their eyes do when they see a woman. Some stare without shame, some sneak a look. I am gradually getting used to the various looks from men. This is the great advantage of leaving a hole for the light of the outer world. I have learned so much. Men will always look at women no matter what; with varied thoughts and desires. Let them look. Nature is not going to change just because I feel uneasy. Look at the man at the other end of the compartment. Ordinarily dressed, portly, thinning hair. How he devours the woman sitting opposite him with his eyes! She is nursing the whining child in her lap, her blouse slightly lifted. You tell me, should men not look away at such times? Each time she covers her swollen breast with her saree, the child pushes it away. She slapped the child a couple of times too, across the head. Two other children sit by the woman who looks like one of the city’s poorer inhabitants.”

Suchitra Bhattacharya
Raikishori, translation (mine)

Raikishori has left the building too soon
Suchitra Bhattacharya, January 10, 1950 – May 12, 2015.

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