Flames

Sumita Dasgupta looked up unhappily, tired of argument and desiring nothing but a long sleep.  Across the table, her father looked stubborn.

She slowly walked out of the room and into the balcony. On that hot June day the skies were a dull grey, and like a certain Lear she felt a correspondence between her dark thoughts and the oppressive atmosphere. But she had not Lear’s overwhelming sense of being ill-used by a wicked world. The consciousness of one’s own culpability makes it harder for the sensitive mind to bear griefs ; it does not have the safety-valve of blaming Fate, God and everyone except oneself. She should have done something about her family’s unhappiness long ago. Her father was too proud a man to be appeased now. There was nobody really to blame except herself, she thought; notwithstanding the fact that there is not much you can do about someone who means to have his own way and who states in no uncertain terms that he regrets being imprisoned by his family. Sumita was proud too, and would not beg. That her father, who had once been her greatest supporter, should now begin to find faults with her every word and action stung badly.

She called out to her mother within. Mrs Dasgupta could not understand why her daughter suddenly wanted to go to the cinema with friends. In the midst of her infinite worries she regretted that her daughter seemed to have become too quiet and eager to please. She never appeared to take much thought for herself, but her passivity covered discontent: on some days, she would be as cheerful as anyone could desire, and on others would sleep in and skip college. Thus she was happy enough to accede to her request, though she was unable to approve of these modern Hindi films any more than her grumbling husband did.

“Well, where will you be going?” she asked.

Sumita paused. There were two large cinema halls nearby that she could visit, apart from the absurdly expensive multiplex that had come up in place of the old Priya cinema hall. She decided she would go to the latter and really treat herself. (Of course, she had no intentions of meeting any friends – she just wanted a little time away from home). Uncharacteristically, maybe because once you start lying you cannot stop, she told her parents she was going to one of the older theatres.

Therefore, when the five o’ clock programme exploded with news of the terrible inferno that had broken out at the Ratna Cinema Hall, Mrs Dasgupta screamed and brought her husband running in from his room. They spent the next fifteen minutes alternately weeping and dialing Sumita’s friends’ houses, until the sound of an autorickshaw broke through the bedlam. There she was, calmly paying the driver.

“Whatever happened ?” she asked, puzzled.

Her mother began to cry again, with relief now, though many imprecations about naughty lying girls were intermixed with her tears. Mr Dasgupta said nothing at all, but looked at Sumita for a very long time, and hugged her awkwardly once. 

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