The maid laid everything on the dining table and as usual said” Uncle, I am leaving, close the door”. Nikhil babu was watching TV. Some debate on rising prices of cooking gas. It was a heated one – more heat then the gas would produce. He slowly lifted his body from the sofa and closed […]

The maid laid everything on the dining table and as usual said” Uncle, I am leaving, close the door”.
Nikhil babu was watching TV. Some debate on rising prices of cooking gas. It was a heated one – more heat then the gas would produce. He slowly lifted his body from the sofa and closed the door. His grandson Boney would come at 2.30pm from school. This intervening time belonged to him – only him. Except for weekends. Boney locks his room once he is back from school. Nikhil babu shares that room with Boney. The toilet is also attached to that room. Sometimes Nikhil babu has to hold his pressure much to his discomfort. Age is catching up. Though there is one more toilet in his son’s bedroom, Nikhil babu avoids using it. In the last four months of his stay he has understood that his using that toilet is not liked by his son  Sujoy and Rini – daughter in law.
Sujoy and Rini both are office goers. Rini comes home by six while Sujoy by seven. This Nine hundred square foot flat with two bedrooms and a drawing and dining space is on the sixth floor. There is a small balcony overlooking the society park.
Nikhil babu has come to Kolkata about four months back. His wife had left her few years back. “ Selfish”, he mutters often. That was the last time his son and daughter in law had been to the village- a distant one in Burdwan district. Nikhil babu had sold off his village home and stayed in a rented room in the village. He has not told his son about that. Whatever little pension he got he managed with that never ever asking for help from his son. The son has also never said a thing about help.
Nikhil babu was planning to tell his son that he has severed the village ties and has come here to stay with them. Then he would bring his luggage – a steel trunk, bedding and Books on maths which he taught in their village school. Boney is in class eighth. He may be able to teach him though Boney does not seem to be interested. He studies through his laptop. Boney has not cosied upto his Grandpa, Nikhil babu mused. The distance between the villager Dadu and city boy is increasing.
The debate was raging. Nikhil babu switched off the TV and stood out in the balcony thinking about the gap between him and his grandson. It had started with Boney not agreeing to share his room. Sujoy somehow pacified him to accomodate dadu. Now Boney says Dadu snores loudly and the toilet stinks of urine all the while. The society children playing in the park laugh at Dadu standing in the balcony in vest and lungi. Rini had commented ‹ disgusting› after listening to that. Nikhil babu had heard that comment.
Nikhil babu wakes up early and gets ready before Boney wakes up. After everyone leaves, Nikhil babu gets back to his village dress- vest and lungi. Perfect bliss.
At night, Nikhil babu eats two chapaties with milk and jaggery and goes to sleep by nine. Others sleep late.
Sujoy brought up the topic while Nikhil babu was kneading the chapati pieces into milk that night. The moment Sujoy and Rini sat across on the dining table, he could sense something was wrong.
“Baba, what is your plan”, Sujoy asked.
“Plan? what plan?”
“Your going back to the village”.
“Why should I go back? I have left that place to stay with you. Where else do I go?” he said smilingly.
An abnormal silence descended in the room. Sujoy and Rini›s faces were taut and glum. Sujoy asked in an angry tone
“What do you mean? You plan to stay here permanently? what about the village house?”
“That I sold to Pratap two years back when you asked for money to buy this flat”
“You never told us that”, this time it was from Rini who spoke in a menacing way.
Nikhil babu lowered his head whirling his finger in the milk. It was really a mistake not to have told them. He did not expect this backlash.
“Baba”- Sujoy› s stern voice  ended Nikhil babu›s reverie.
“Listen Baba” said Sujoy” It is impossible for you to stay here. We have only two rooms, two toilets. Boney is growing up. He needs his space”.
“We too need space”, Rini butted in. She sounded irritated.
Nikhil babu looked around. There was space all around. enough for him to be in a corner. Garnering courage and swallowing the lump in his throat, he said,” We had only one bathroom – away from the house. Sixteen of us spent the entire life in three small rooms. Still we had space- at least in our minds”. His last words were wrapped in agony and he was struggling to check his tears from flowing.
“Disgusting. Sujoy it› s your problem. All I need is space.” throwing this verbal arrow Rini thumped across to her room and banged the door shut. An eerie silence prevailed for some time. Sujoy kept on looking at his father who was ritually kneading the chapaties with drooping shoulders – defeat writ large on his face.
Sujoy broke the silence.
“Look Baba”, he said in measured but firm tone,” do not be irrational. Give us space. Think about it and tell me tomorrow. I shall take you to the village- it is Saturday tomorrow”.
Nikhil babu could not finish his Milk and Chapati.
Only two words were orbiting in his mind – “disgusting” and “Space”. He may find out the context of Disgusting but how could he get Space for his son?
Nikhil babu- a retired maths teacher of Basanti Memorial school – thought of this on an empty stomach lying sleepless on his bed. He could not get the answer of this social maths. A severe headache – kind of which he never had gripped him as he tossed in the bed.
Before the Sun came out next morning, he silently climbed down the stairs in his half shirt and lungi, crossed the security and stood on the main road. He needed the answer of his question.
He got on to the first bus. He was now a penniless, faceless man looking for an answer.
For the last few days, a mentally unbalanced old person is seen walking on the streets of Barasat. He calls over people and asks:
“Please tell me where from to get Space? I urgently need the answer.”