Smell of Love


Riya had her eyes fixed at the disturbed ripples on the bosom of the water, created by the stone thrown by her. The stagnant water dispersed at the shock and made way for some newer fresher water, oblivious to the act of cruelty pelted at them. She wished those small waves carried away her cruel misery, just as they moved the plants. The annoyed hyacinths peeping their heads out of the water wanted her to leave, their edges shining against the shadow of the red-smeared sky. Little did they know what pain had befell on her few days back, not that she wanted them to know. She sighed heavily and turned her gaze towards some cows, lazily grazing, unaware of the happenings of the world. Some egrets flapped their wings and searched for their final prey, hidden amidst the abysmal waters, before heading back to their nests. Riya moved her eyes towards the sky and devoured it’s vastness before being snapped back to reality. Sanju was standing behind her, with some mushed paper in his hand. She looked at him and smiled, a smile worn out from following all the post-funeral traditions. Riya held Sanju’s hands and dusted the back of her cheap, worn-out salwar, after getting up from the ground he had brought her some shingara, crushed inside the paper. She again smiled at him and refused the food. She wasn’t allowed to eat anything oily till the funeral rituals were over. Riya dusted her dress, grabbed her bag filled with books and gestured him to go home. Disheartened, Sanju put the shingara back in his pocket and started walking behind her. He couldn’t fathom the depth of her silent mourning. She had been awkwardly calm and still since her father died few days back.

Haricharan Shil had a small farming land, where he grew whatever crops he could. It brought very little income, just enough to support his family of three and ensure his daughter, Riya’s studies. He toiled day and night, but Rai Babu didn’t mind grabbing most of the money under the pretence of debt repayment for a merger sum of money borrowed by Haricharan’s father 30years back. Never did Haricharan had any extra money to repair their dilapidated brick ceiling. But his overworked heart couldn’t bear the brunt of his toil. One very sunny day, his vision blurred, head felt light and a searing mild pain ran through his chest. His sweaty body touched the dust and blackened his view forever.

Riya’s board exam was approaching. She had always aced her classes previously and moreover had a knack for knowledge and everything new. Her school teachers held high hopes and so helped her with her studies in every way possible. Even Sanju helped her with his notes whenever he could. Riya met Sanju when she was studying in the 9th standard. Sanju, being her senior, was already preparing for his board examination. They used to cross each other daily on their way back from school. He had liked her for a very long time then, but never had the courage to convey his feelings. But on Saraswati Puja that year, when he saw her saree-clad visage, his feelings knew no bounds and he decided to test his luck. Since then, it’s been a year now and their relation is still budding.

Riya had come out with flying colours in her board exam, as everyone had expected. When she received her marks, tears rolled down her cheeks. She remembered her father, who always wanted his daughter to achieve great success. Despite everyone pressuring Haricharan into marry his daughter off instead of educating, he wanted her to become someone great and prove everyone that poor Haricharan’s decision was right all along. But his untimely exit broke her heart. Lack of medical facility in her village threw her father to the throes of death. She wept in front of her mother as all her dreams to study were getting fainter. The only school where higher education was provided was an all boys’ school as most girls got married off even before crossing the threshold of their board exam. And those that staggered along the way and still completed the exam, left their studies immediately and started readying themselves for an imminent marriage proposal lurking at their doorstep. Riya had her eyes set high and when her world came crashed down in on her, she couldn’t hold her head up or breathe. Her mother’s inconsolable words burned her. But what else could that poor old lady do? Rai Babu’s people constantly banged their door and labourers whom she employed for some help, was also an added expense. Life had become tougher since her husband’s demise. Problems were throttling her throat. She could barely make the ends meet and now she had a broken daughter with shattered dreams to add up to everything.

Riya was washing the utensils when she heard someone calling her name. She strained her neck above the bamboo fence and found the Principal Sir of her school was standing outside. She quickly washed her hands and rushed outside. After exchanging some pleasantries and tea, her Headmaster handed out some money and asked Riya’s mother to not stop her studies and instead, send her to the school in the next village, where a girl’s school had started functioning very recently. He assured her that she shouldn’t worry about her studies as all the teachers wanted Riya to study and so had agreed to provide her with monetary help.

Riya’s exploding emotions were boundless. She ran along the field till her lungs ran out of oxygen. The light breeze touched her moist face and cooled the heat emanating out of her skin.

Riya met Sanju in that evening and unfolded the good news to him. Sanju’s face brightened up. His dirty chapped fingers, from all the day’s work in the field, grabbed Riya’s. In the mild darkness of the evening his snuck something solid into her folded hand and a toffee. After finishing his schooling, he dropped out and started helping his father in the field. He had been making some money since then and had already saved a good amount. With his saved money he bought a pair of silver bangles for Riya on that evening. Once walking side by side Sanju noticed that Riya was staring at a pair of silver bangles shinging from the small jewelry shop by the side of the dusty village road. Riya opened the packet and found those shiny bangles wrapped in some colourfull papers.  She couldn’t believe her own eyes and a cry of joy came out from her instantly.

Riya started going to school in the next village. Her neighbours had warned her mother that she would elope or bring bad name to her family. But her mother knew better than to hear those words. Riya had taken up science subjects for her higher studies. As brilliant as she was, she grasped lessons faster than her classmates and started spending more time in the small library that her new school had. She started borrowing books from her teachers. On seeing her vigour and dedication, one of her teachers asked her to start preparing for medical joint entrance exams. She wasn’t sure if she could afford it but nonetheless, began investing her energy. Once in a while, she and Sanju would meet at the river bank and spend the evening watching the sunset, humming some songs or devouring on a shingara.

Riya didn’t know what to do when her result of the medical entrance admission was out. She had cracked it successfully in the first attempt.  But she couldn’t enjoy her success in the thought that as her available financial condition would not allow her the luxury of studying of expensive medical course in a city. Her teachers again came to rescue when they made her apply for a scholarship which would suffice most parts of her college fees. She decided to give some tuition to manage the rest of the money. But her hostel fees were high and that couldn’t be managed anyhow. At this vital juncture of her life, Sanju came forward and asked her not to worry about the expenses. Last summer, he had already moved to Kolkata for earning more money. He worked at the Agarpara jute mill near Kolkata. Resting aside money for his family and his regular expenses, he had managed to save up some money which to tolled up to a fairly bright amount.

Sanju himself went around with Riya to find her a hostel, where living expenses would be lower. He handed her the advance deposit and some extra money while leaving her at the hostel. The owners were an old couple who lovingly assured Sanju that they would take care of Riya. Riya and Sanju put on the guise of distant siblings so that he could come meet her without activating the frowns of the owners.

Things had worked out well between Riya and Sanju till then. Riya focused her attention to studying harder and giving tuitions to reduce the burden on Sanju. Sanju, too, worked harder. Riya’s chats and smiles relieved him from all his weariness and gave him peace. A year and half later, Sanju came to her hostel to give her the money. But she wasn’t present at that moment. So, the owners let him sit in her room and wait till she returned.

He sat on her bed and started humming a tune. He sat there for a lot of time until he decided it was getting late. He took the money out of his pocket and picked up a diary lying next to her bed to place the money inside it. As he picked the diary, a folded piece of paper slid out and fell onto the floor. He picked it up and without opening it placed it inside the diary. As he opened the diary, he read the starting lines of that page. It was dated a few days back. The page revealed that Riya wrote –“What can I say when Shankar expresses his love to me? Every time my voice freezes. The half part of my heart always wants to accept his proposal but another part of my heart and my brain smother me. I don’t know when and how a kind of softness towards Shanker has nestled in a part of my heart unknowingly?  Whatever am I today it is because of Sanju. I love Sanju, too but I think I, somehow like Shankar also. I don’t know why such feeling about Shankar happens to me? How can I forget the immense sacrifices of Sanju in my life? But whenever my eyes meet with Shankar’s beautiful and dreamy eyes, whenever my ears receive the charming words of Shankar, a wave of joy engulfs me. Oh! God I don’t know why why..?” Sanju closed the diary and placed it silently back on her bed as he heard footsteps arriving, along with a mild sweet scent. He turned back and saw Riya entering. She was dressed beautifully with a sweet smell emanating from her. Sanju’s senses were numbed for a moment. Riya’s beauty along with the perfumed air created a mist around him. Riya sat beside him and lightly chided him for wearing dirty clothes all the time and not taking care of himself. Sanju looked at himself. His unruly hairs, black nails, dark, tough hands, dried skin, creased yellowed shirt, everything contrasted Riya’s present aesthetic demeanour. Riya showed him the new perfume she bought from Esplanade, few days back. She said that she loved the smell and it gave her a fresh air to herself. Sanju woke up from his trance and got up to leave. Just before leaving, he said “I won’t be able to come to you so frequently because of my work pressure increases lately. But don’t worry I shall sent you the money through money order in every month. And whenever I get some time I’ll come to you.” Saying this, Sanju looked at Riya once more and left silently.

Few months had passed since they met last. He had, since, been sending her money by post. Riya didn’t know how to contact him. One day, along with the money, she received a letter from him. It read that he was in Kerala. There he worked in an automobile factory. Riya wrote him letters once in a while. Days and months passed by in this fashion. But the intensity of letters reduced over time and the only means of communication between them stuck to sending and receiving money.

Time passed away very first and it was her final year. Her friendship with Shankar had increased in the meantime. During their internship in the final year, they studied together, attended to patients together, ate together, laughed together. And the finals arrived ….

Riya sat in her room with a letter in her hand. She had completed her MBBS course and was then a junior doctor, posted at NRS Hospital, in Kolkata. A few months back, she had written to Sanju, asking him to come to meet her once as she had completed her medical course successfully and became a doctor. To that, she received a letter the previous day, that he would surely come to meet her as soon as possible. Riya folded the letter and slid it inside her diary and left for the hospital. Few days had passed since she received that letter and amidst all the work pressure, she forgot about the letter, about Sanju.

One fine evening as she entered the hospital, she met few friends who were leaving after their duty hours. “Who is on postmortem duty tonight?”, asked one of her friends. “I am. Why? What happened?”, Riya asked in a perplexed way. Her friend replied, “Oh, then, you are in a deep trouble today as there has been a nasty accident and the body is almost mutilated, emitting foul smell from it and there are no recognisable features left in that dead body.” As they left for their home, Riya went into the canteen. Her mood, now, had already been dampened by her friends. She threw her cup in the dustbin and braced herself for the upcoming event.

It was nearly 7:30 pm. Riya entered the mortuary along with the coroner. She saw a body covered in white sheet laying on the table. The coroner clinched his nose due to the rotting smell coming from the body. He vented out his disgust with a grunt. But Riya couldn’t smell anything. She hadn’t caught a cold. Then why was her nose blocked, she thought. Rather, she was gradually getting a very nice and pleasant smell. The coroner removed the sheet from the body. The corpse’s head was battered to slime and not a single bone or skin of his face could be identified. As the coroner cut a slit straight through the corpse’s body, Riya found that the smell was getting stronger. The deeper the coroner went, the stronger the smell got. Finally, as the scalpel was making its mark with its sharpness, Riya could no more bear the strong sweet smell coming from the corpse. It was as if the smell was gushing out from the entire body, with its centre of manufacture- the heart. She felt that she identified this smell somehow. A vein clicked in her head and she instantly recognised it. It was an expensive perfume that she had bought few years ago. It was the perfume she wore when Sanju last came to meet her.

Riya dragged her eyes to the body. Nearly most of his body was mutilated and bore no sign of a human. Her steps faltered and she took a few steps back. She came out of the mortuary but still couldn’t breathe as if someone had strangled her throat and her eyes were about to pop out. She ran to the Emergency Room of the hospital and demanded the corpse’s belongings. The torn bloody clothes didn’t ring any bell to her.  But, she found his wallet inside his pocket. Blood had dried out of the surface of the leather wallet. With shivering hands, she opened it. Her eyes zoomed in as she saw an old picture of herself inside the picture panel. The picture was mostly smeared with red dried blood. Flashbacks started thundering before her eyes. A small diary slid from the pocket and fell on her foot. Alerted by this sudden movement, she jumped at the contact. Looking down, she stopped down to retrieve it. With her shaking hands, she placed it on the table.

She was yet to comprehend the climax of the eventful evening, when all of a sudden, a gust of cold air blew over her and turned the pages of the diary. With a sense of shiver run through her, she moved her bewildered eyes towards it and went forward to hold the diary. She went about to read the words etched on the white page. She recognised the handwriting.

“Riya’s world has now been changed. Her decorated life does not resemble my dusty, dark life anymore. What more shall I be to her if not some barrier to her ambitious dedication? This is not what I want in life to be. Perhaps, this is not something even she would want me to be. I am happy for you and immensely proud of you, Riya….”

A wave of tears blurred her vision. She blinked her eyes to get rid of the water. The pages of the diary flickered in her hand. Few pages flew, again, and a new page opened up in front of her.

“I want to meet you and hold your hands just one more time. Those hands remain always more capable than mine could ever achieve to be. They don’t belong together, and neither do our very different worlds. I want to free you from this burden of a relationship and let you be the free bird that you ought to be. I still remember the perfume you wore that day when I last saw you. I was not capable of giving you such an expensive gift at that phase of my life. But now that I’ve saved up some for this, I want you to wear this for me one last time before I walk out of your life. I don’t want this to end through a letter. I really want to see you one last time, before I walk back into my life of dredged slavery. I don’t want to drag you down along with me. But I will always love you. I don’t know if you still wear this or your preference has been changed. But remember me by this, won’t you?”

Riya’s world once again came crashing down upon her. She couldn’t maintain her balance and fell on the floor. She gagged her mouth to stop the loud shriek coming out of her. Even in the cold of November, with the wintry breeze playing with her hair, salty sweats rippled through her profusely. She felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up to and found Shankar staring at her. As words failed to come out of her muffled cries, a receipt of the perfume’s slid from the diary and fell on her knee.

5 Comments on "Smell of Love"
  • Pranab Reply
    August 29, 2021 at 4:16 pm


    Really nice story. Please enable subscribe button. I am very interested to read this type of story.

  • Arindomdey Reply
    August 29, 2021 at 6:42 pm

    Very good

  • Rima Banerjee Reply
    September 1, 2021 at 7:41 am

    Wonderful story.

  • Chanchal Das Reply
    September 4, 2021 at 4:02 pm

    Excellent story.

  • Sanchari Das Reply
    June 1, 2023 at 8:34 am

    𝑖𝑡’𝑠 𝑎𝑤𝑒𝑠𝑜𝑚𝑒…
    𝑊𝑜𝑛𝑑𝑒𝑟𝑓𝑢𝑙 𝑠𝑡𝑜𝑟𝑦

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