(Ishti Kutum is written and scripted by Leena Gangopadhay. The following is a narration of the story so far in order to set the context for my forthcoming analysis. Click here for Part 1 – Introduction to the Analysis)
Archi, Baha and Mun – main protagonists
Archisman Mukherjee (Archi), 29 is a renowned journalist, known for his honesty and bravery and no-nonsense lifestyle, respected by his juniors and celebrated by his peers for the exemplary journalistic values and dignity displayed by him in both his work and personal life. Being a star journalist Archi is in constant demand among the big multi-media houses based in New Delhi as well as at international level. A decade into the profession, several job offers with high salaries from these houses still remains open in front of him, but he continues to stick to Prothom Khabor, the print media house that provided him just the platform he needed during his struggling days and till date gives him the unquestionable freedom to carry out his profession as per his rules. Archi is a bit of socialist, he prefers to ride his bike over an office sponsored car, he is not a fan of luxuries and riches, doesn’t appreciate when people praise his professional success too much and doesn’t even allow his friends and family to discuss his work with him. To most people he would come across as unsocial, unfriendly, rude and arrogant.
Economics Professor Kamalika Majumdar (Mun), 25 is the daughter of an award winning and affluent Painter Dibyojyoti Majumdar. Archi and Mun have been in a relationship for over 6 years and they have finally decided to tie the knot. Kamalika’s high-nosed svelte mother Anu is unhappy to accept a middle class journalist as her son-in-law but Kamalika would not lose Archi at any cost. The girl who was born with a golden spoon, who had been brought up with the best and the richest, is ready to give up every luxury and comfort of the world to be with Archi. Archi is no fan of his would be mother-in-law either. Archi feels that there are certain social and ideological differences between Archi and Mun’s background and lifestyle which are never to be filled. He tends to ignore these differences because of Mun’s simple and down to earth behaviour nature but her mother always reminds him of the differences. So he prefers to keep a distance with Mun’s mother.
Bahamoni Soren (Baha), 18, is a tribal girl from Palashboni, a remote village in the forest area of Purulia district infamous for its Maoist / Naxalite activities. Baha lives with her mother Kankaboti Soren at the mercy of her heartless step-grandmother who is always yelling at them and mistreating them. Kanka’s life is full of misery and tears but the only thing that keeps her going is her child, Baha born out of a relationship that never got its due recognition. A shahari babu once visited Palashboni to find inspiration for his art. He stayed there for seven months during which period he fell in love with Kanka, married her in front of the village deity and lived in with her in a small hut in shabby conditions. It was only after his city based first wife visited Palashboni and dragged him out of his shabby state that he left Palashboni to have never come back. Kanka remained his inspiration for a new series of painting which got him his life’s greatest honors and made him the man he is today.
Baha has never seen her father; her father doesn’t know she exists. But we know that the Shahari Babu who married Kanka was Dibyojyoti Majumdar, Mun’s father. Thus poor Baha is the illegitimate child of one of Kolkata’s richest and most affluent person.
But Baha’s greater identity is that she is a child prodigy duly identified by her school teachers who have been taking special care of her studies through the years. She has got star marks in the 10th boards exam and is about to appear for her Higher Secondary examinations, the first girl from Palashboni to have ever studied this far.
Less than a month away from his wedding with Mun, Archi’s secret sources informed him that Satyakam, the fierce mystery rebel, leader of the ‘jangol mahol’ sought after by media, police and politicians alike, is about to visit Palashboni for the annual village fair. Archi had waited long enough to find this man for an exclusive interview, and so he followed Satyakam to Palashboni.
Satyakam the lover who turned a rebel
At the village fair Archi came face to face with the person he came to meet, Satyakam. But before Archi could even start talking, Satyakam got suspicious of his intentions and took him hostage. He and his men snatched away Archi’s cell phone, camera, bags and locked him up in a small hut for the whole day without food & water. Satya called him a ‘Sreni Shatru’ (class enemy) and threatened to kill him for good. Later that night, after the fair was over Satyakam came to meet Archi and engaged into a dialogue with him. Meanwhile the cops got information that Satyakam is in the village and a large fleet of cops raided the village to arrest him. Baha was coming to Satya’s hut to give him food, she saw the cops on the way and rushed to alert Satya. Inside the hut, Baha had just informed Satya about the cops and just then there was a large bang on the door. Satya looked suspiciously at Archi assuming he must have informed the cops. As the banging became louder, Satya took out his gun and attempted to shoot Archi.
Archi however stayed calm and asked him to go and hide somewhere inside while he’d take care of the matter. Archi opened the door, spoke to the cops, showed them his I-card and misled them away.
Archi saved Satya and took him in his scooter and escorted him out of the village safely to the tourist lodge where he was staying. In the tourist lodge Satya decided to open up to Archi. “Babu, you took so much trouble for me, ask now what you came to ask – where does this Satyakam live; where does he operate from; which all areas are his squads working; what are the latest plans – you want to know these right?”
“I don’t want to know any of these. I want to know the real story that nobody has ever asked, how did Satyakam become Bikramjit (the leader)?” asked Archi.
Satya’s story left Archi spell bound – the story of a heart broken lover turning into a rebel, a social leader. It all started years ago in one such village fair when Satya was mustering courage to propose his love to Kankaboti but a Shahari Babu came to the village that fateful day and bloodied Satya’s heart. The babu took everything the village had to offer, its fresh air, warm earth, open sky, sweet water, life’s melody and Kanka’s heart and then he left with his wife. Before leaving he gave Kanka a sign, Baha. He also left a promise un-kept. He said he would come back for Kanka, but he never did.
Archi was stunned at the revelation that Baha’s father must be a man from the city, having a perfect life while Kanka and Baha are pushed into the darkness.
Satya looked at Archi and said, “Why are you surprised, babu? This is what has been happening for ages. When it happened to me, when my heart bloodied I realized the pain. You know babu I would have asked for Kanka’s hand in marriage in front of the village God that day but couldn’t. Perhaps it’s a rather insignificant story of an ordinary man like me but this incident made me realize, that ages after ages, thousands of Bahas are being born like this, thousands of Kankas are shedding their tears in our villages but the city people, who are ahead of us in life, would never come to us and offer their hands and say, ‘Come up, be with us.’ They want the melody of our flutes, our air water sky, our labour, our body but they don’t want our tears, our sorrow, our pain.”
“And was it after this that you decided to bring a change?” Asked Archi
Satyakam continued to speak, “The systems have to change. I realized we all have the same pain but we lacked an organization so I started gathering voices.” Archi was barely able to speak anymore. His eyes were moist and voice was choked. Satya’s story has moved him to the point of no return. When he asked, “Do you think you have been able to bring a change?” Satya replied in negative, “change is no magic.”
But in Archi’s eyes we could see that at least one man has changed. A new Archisman Mukherjee was born that day. Satya said, “Some change has come, people of this village now know they have a right over these forests and the land. Babu, not anymore would a city man come and take away the honour of our women. Our girls and boys would not be in darkness anymore, they would go to school, get jobs.”
“Do you think you would ever be able to bring this change?” Archi’s heart was racing and there was a new light in his eyes. His questions were not that of a journalist anymore. It was coming from a man who was moved by this revolution, only a few steps away from himself jumping the battlefield and take up the weapons of change along with Satyakam.
“If I can’t there would be more Satyakams. One would die, more would come, they would come in lakhs. They would tell the world we are awakened. And there would be Baha, my daughter. Baha would one day fulfil all my dreams.”
Satyakam left that night for an unknown destination to carry on with his struggle. Archi was supposed to leave for Kolkata in few days. Baha and Kanka were at their hut, worried for Satya.
Meanwhile at both the Mukherjee and Majumdar households everybody had started to worry about Archi’s wellbeing. They couldn’t reach him on the phone, and he had also not called for the whole day. Mun started to panic and asked her father to try to find out if Archi is safe.
After Satya left, Archi called Mun. She expressed her worries but Archi didn’t encourage them much. When she said she had called his editor to find about his well being he seemed really annoyed, “why do you over react so much? And why are you being to irrational? I was busy with work that’s why couldn’t call.” Archi is not someone who is swooned by emotions and melodrama. As Mun got more panic stricken and insisted for his early return from Palashboni, he said, “Mun, I hope I am not talking to a 5 year old.” They hung up after a brief conversation and Archi slept off.
The next morning, Baha and Kanka came to the tourist lodge hoping they’d get to meet Satya but Archi informed them he had already left. While saving Satya, Archi had hurt his foot. Kanka noticed that and wanted to tend to his wounds. In the afternoon, she sent Baha with some natural medicine to apply on Archi’s ankle. It was her innocent visit to this tourist lodge that eventually devastated her life.
About 3-4 days later, with wild turn of events, that included several threats to his life, Archi returned from Palashboni as a married man with Baha his wife from a forced marriage.
Archi and Baha’s wedding under forced circumstances
Archi first met Baha in Palashboni when she ran into his two-wheeler. Usual arguments followed between Archi and Baha along with the villagers. “Seems like you don’t look where you are going” Yelled Baha, “Babu, you’d have to pay for the damage” said one of the villagers. “Why riding so fast inside the village?” asked another. Then one of them noticed Archi’s professional camera and got very intrigued. Archi’s assistant Krishanu immediately asked the villagers to pose for Archi Babu, “He would take your photo.” The cute villagers happily started posing for Archi, but Baha made a face and left the scene fuming. As she walked away, Archi took her candid shots. Surely, Archi was captured by her beauty and childlike innocence.
The day after Satya left, Kanka requested Archi to have a humble meal at her place. Kanka was grateful to Archi for saving Satya’s life and this was her way of expressing her gratitude. After the meal, Archi left Kanka’s place for the tourist lodge. He was still limping with a swollen ankle so Baha accompanied him just to be sure he reaches safely. By the time they reached the lodge, it got very stormy and rainy. With thick dark forests all around and a river flowing through it, it was too risky for Baha to go home alone from the lodge. The storm and rain only kept increasing through the evening into the night and flooded the local river as it happens whenever it rains. Scared and worried Baha started sobbing. She wanted to go home even in that rain and storm but Archi wouldn’t let her go. “Don’t worry Baha, your mother would understand that you got stuck in the rain,” he assured her.
After standing at the corridor for a long time, Archi asked Baha to come inside his room and eat dinner. Baha didn’t want to go. Her feet won’t move, and she turned pale and silent. Archi realized something was wrong. He asked, “What is it that you are worried about Baha? I think you want to say something, so say it” When she didn’t say anything, he assumed a few things and said, “Look Baha, know one thing it is one of the greatest insult to not trust a person. Are you not able to trust me?” Baha felt embarrassed. She said, “No babu it’s not about that, I didn’t mean to insult you.” ”Then just listen to me. Come inside eat something and then we can spend the night talking.“
But they didn’t talk. They both fell asleep. Baha on the floor, Archi on his bed. Baha, eleven years younger to him, was merely a kid in Archi’s eyes. He just couldn’t let that kid stand in the rain outside; neither could he let her go home alone. So he insisted she stays in his room. She tried her best to resist Archi’s insistence, but even though the words came up to her lips she never could fully tell him, out of embarrassment perhaps, that “in our village a man and a woman are not allowed to stay in the same room.”
The next morning, when the news spread like fire that Baha never returned home last night from the lodge, the whole village stormed inside the lodge and started banging on the door of Archi’s room. Baha opened the door and the villagers assumed the worst. They dragged Archi out of the room and took him to the nearby forests. The tribal law mandated he either married Baha, or chose death.
Baha in her shrill voice kept shouting that nothing has happened, they were innocent, it was because of the rain that she couldn’t go home and had to stay at babu’s room. But nobody listened to her. There was madness all around. They would not let another babu repeat the same fate as that of Kanka in this village.
3-4 men had caught hold of Archi’s hands and pressed him against a tree and an angry mob armed with bows and arrows, sickle, spade and whatever have you circled around him. Baha stood shivering holding her mother’s hands. Archi still trying to be rational and polite tries to explain the reasons Baha couldn’t return home. But all attempt fell on deaf ears. He said, “if you don’t believe me ask Baha.” A man replied, “No need to ask her, I saw the two of you in the room with my own eyes. You have to marry her” No, said Archi in strong voice. Right then an arrow passed by his left ear and hit the tree. Another by his right ear and third one barely missed his forehead. A brave Archi closed his eyes for a moment to gather all his remaining strengths to face death and said, “No, not even on my death would I accept this madness (That of marrying Baha).”
A village head started countdown, “if you don’t agree within 10 count, you die. 1, 2…7, 8, 9… Stop all of you, yes he would marry me” Said Baha.
Young Baha was able to see it in the eyes of an angry bull headed Archi that he was about to choose death. His death was right their in front of him. There was no other way to save his life but to falsely admit that they have sinned and he had agreed to marry her. At that point, Baha knew Archi was soon to be married to a girl he loves. Archi had earlier told her that if she wanted to go to Kolkata for higher studies, his would-be wife would be able to help her as she is a college teacher. Baha knew Archi was not likely to accept this forced marriage. Baha sacrificed her future to save Archi’s life.
Archi suddenly lost all strength to fight once Baha said this. It was as if Baha was his last hope. From this moment on, he became strangely numb. He didn’t struggle anymore to break loose from the grip of the villagers. He just went silent and numb. Next thing he knew was that they had locked him up in a small hut. Scared, worried and a worn out Archi started recalling some of the latest events from his life. His promise to Mun a day before he left for Palashboni, “Don’t worry, I’d be back the same as I am going” is not to be kept anymore. Just one day before Baha had jokingly said, “If you make fun of our village God, he’d curse you and pit this Bahamoni with you, then you’d have to bear me forever.” Perhaps the village God really did curse Archi.
Archi barely registered that the village men had put a wedding attire on him and he had been taken to the wedding mandap. Everything happened in a trance. Moments before putting the sindoor on Baha’s forehead, he thought of Mun’s face.
It was a wedding under forced circumstances but not a forced wedding. As in when the wedding rituals were being conducted, Archi was in his full senses, albeit in a state of surrender. He knew what he was doing, he didn’t like it, but unlike many such cases, his hands and limbs were in his control and not being forcefully moved by other people.
In a nutshell, it was a valid marriage in the eyes of law.
Baha’s fate after the wedding in Kolkata
An enraged Archi left Palashboni in a local bus soon after the wedding with Baha, not knowing what to do with her. On humanity grounds he couldn’t leave a teenage girl stranded on the way somewhere between Kolkata and Palashboni. Throughout the bus journey he kept yelling at her and blamed her for everything while she sat next to him unable to control her sobbing for the humiliation, the cruel joke that her fate played upon her. Her whole future had turned dark and uncertain, she saw everything she ever had slipping out of her hands – her childhood, her studies, her ambitions to go to a college, get a job and build a better life for her mother – everything was over.
“Who the hell asked you to claim that I agreed to marry you? Why did you lie?” Archi yelled at her.“ “Had I not said that, they would have killed you Babu”, Baha replied in between her sobs. “Sure they would have, and that would have been better rather than living like this now” said Archi who still thought death would have been a better alternative than this forced marriage.
Archi however never could come up with an answer to the main question, “Now what?” Having sobbed enough, Baha came up with a solution or so she thought. She promised Archi that she would never tell anyone about this dreadful wedding, all she needed was a place to stay in Archi’s house, as she couldn’t go back to the village. At a tea halt in a local dhaba, Baha went to the washroom and washed away her sindoor and took off her Shankha Pala and all other signs of a married woman.
This was not a solution. An intelligent being would know. But this was the best Baha could do considering her tender age and experience of life. Archi should have handled this in a more pragmatic way but he didn’t. Why didn’t he we would analyse that at a later stage.
When they reached home, Archi’s family opened the door and asked who she is. Archi said, “She is Baha, from now on she would stay here.” Thereafter Archi kept quiet and let Baha face more questions from the Mukherjee family. To the most important question, why would a girl suddenly come and stay in Archi’s house, Baha said, “Don’t you guys need a maid? I can do all kind of household work.”
Archi’s family welcomed and accepted Baha with open hearts not as a maid but as a daughter of the house, giving her love and care and treating her as one of their own. Baha was overwhelmed with the love from everybody except one person, Archi.
In the Mukherjee household Archi is the cold hearted, emotion less, bull headed, straight forward angry man whom everybody fears. The children of the Mukherjee family would rush to their rooms the minute they’d hear Archi’s bike at the gate. Some of them would pick up their books others would quickly drink the milk or eat the food. The senior members, like Archi’s parents, uncle, aunt they’d all become alert. The family which was probably cracking jokes and picking up petty fights a while ago would suddenly go silent, all eyes on the door, “here comes our angry young son, hope all is well.”
In this house entered Baha the nut case, the headiest, the naughtiest kid in town. She is loud, restless and always up to some grand mischief. Baha’s adventures soon became famous all over the neighbourhood. One day she fought with the local boys and broke their cricket bats and wickets because one of them winked at her and said “Baha I love you.” Other day she snatched a rickshaw pullers rickshaw and pulled it on her own because he refused to ply. Another time she stole a jar of spices from the shop keeper and ran because he was too much time to attend to her. There was no end to Baha’s misadventures. One always expected the unexpected from Baha, nothing was impossible for her; the world was at her feet.
Except that the moment someone would even utter the words ‘Archi’ even from a distance, or the moment she heard Archi’s bike or his footsteps, Baha would turn pale, her feet won’t move, voice would choke and eyes would become moist. She was as scared of him as a lamb in front of a tiger. Behind his back she also called him tiger.
Archi despised Baha. The incident in Palashboni had defeated his existence as a free man, brutally murdered his free soul that longed for none other than Mun, humiliated him in front of the whole village and all he could now feel for the people of Palashboni was deep hatred. Baha represented Palashboni and she reminded him of his defeat and human rights violations. He thought everything that the capitalist society claims about these so called backward classes are true – that they are illiterate, uncultured and barbaric; they deliberately trap innocent city people into marrying their girls so that they can blackmail and extort money, find an avenue to come to Kolkata to seek work, do notorious activities, involve in crime etc.
He was insanely angry at Baha. He never trusted her for a bit and constantly lived in the fear that she would tell everybody about the wedding and would claim her right and jeopardize his family’s happiness. This fear led him to be more and more abusive towards Baha. He didn’t want to see her face; he would never eat or drink anything if it was being served by her, he won’t let her come near his bed room. He wanted to forget that someone called Baha existed.
Baha did her best to avoid ever coming into Archi’s vision, but she mostly failed. Every time she would fail, a lot of yelling by Archi would follow which she would silently bear with buckets of tears rolling down her cheeks. The other family members would try to reason with Archi, request him to calm down and stop scolding her but who has the guts to control Archi. Nonetheless, Baha’s adventures would resume the next morning.
Life went on like this for a while. Archi and Mun’s wedding day was fast approaching. On couple of occasion before their wedding, he tried to share the Baha incident with Mun but words didn’t come out of his mouth at the last moment. The truth remained unsaid and on the due date, Archi married Mun while having a living spouse from a valid marriage in his home under the guise of a house maid.
Baha was sad, but not devastated. She had accepted the fate and decided she would live alone forever with just the signs of her marriage, the sindoor which Archi had put on her forehead, whether willingly or unwillingly. Archi babu was her husband there was no bigger truth than this for her, but she decided to never want anything from him as his wife. She decided to live her entire life in absence of her true identity because she gave her words to Archi.
In Archi’s new wife, Baha found an elder sister. The feelings were mutual from Mun’s side. They both loved each other immensely. The Mukherjee family soon found out about Baha’s interest in studies and ensured that household work doesn’t interfere with her preparations for the higher secondary exams. Head of Mukherjee household, Archi’s Jethumoni (father’s elder brother) took deep interest in Baha’s studies. He also loved her the most, and would often say, “Baha, my child, you must have been my mother in my past life” Mun started making plans for Baha’s higher education and decided to enrol her in the same college where she was a professor.
The more Mun and other family members loved Baha, the more irritated Archi got. He would always say, you guys are going overboard with her, there’s no need to pamper her so much because after all she is just a maid. He couldn’t understand what was there to love her so much. And he presumed she must be playing good to win their hearts for some ulterior motives.
Archi fell in love with Baha
Life for Baha, Archi and Mun moved on this way but not for long. One fine day, Archi fell madly in love with Baha. And the world as he knew it was never the same again.
How did this impossible happen? We would come back to that question later. At the moment, about 7 months after Archi’s wedding with Mun, Archi is a torn worried man, unable to accept himself as Mun’s husband but unable to tell her the truth about Baha, because Baha stops him from doing so. Baha had made Archi promise that she would continue to stay in Mukherjee family on just one condition, that Archi would never hurt Mun and would not tell anybody about their wedding. Archi argued several times that it is not possible to love two women, that he cannot live the lies, secrets and double life anymore but Baha just wouldn’t let him to take an action that would break Mun’s matrimonial home. Her sole principle of life was that, “I cannot hurt someone for the sake of my happiness.”
Meanwhile, Mun has realized Archi is distancing from her. His behaviour towards her had changed drastically; he is often absent minded, restless and pale. He doesn’t even come close to her at nights anymore; they haven’t made love in a long time. She felt that for some reason, he is constantly irritated with her. At the same time Mun noticed a drastic change in Archi’s behaviour towards Baha. He has become over caring and possessive about Baha. Every now and then, he’d pick up a fight with Mun or somebody else on something related to Baha. From which college Baha should be enrolled to who would take her to the college, how she’d dress up, how she should be addressed – Archi had a say in everything about Baha and those often clashed with Mun and others. But Archi doesn’t think twice before making a rude comment to someone attempting to in anyway hurt Baha. On several occasions he had even given stern replies to his mother in law’s constant habit of calling or otherwise treating Baha as a servant in front of the whole family.
The same Archi who had insulted Baha in front of everybody day after day had now become his guardian angel, his knight in shining armour and Mun just couldn’t accept this.
The latest of such Baha related altercation between Archi and Mun led to a major crack in their relationship. Both of them engaged in a heated argument and yelled at each other in front of the Mukherjee family. Things went from bad to worse and the next morning Mun suggested they should take a break from each other. From her internal monologue we know that the suggestion was merely meant to test Archi’s reaction, which he accepted immediately thereby breaking Mun’s heart in several pieces. She doesn’t know about the Baha-Archi relationship yet, but she is convinced she has lost Archi’s love. The day after, Mun packed her bags and left for her father’s home. Nobody could stop her, not even Baha even after she literally lay on Mun’s feet and begged her not to leave.
After Mun left, the entire Mukherjee family turned towards Archi and asked him how is it that a relationship of 7 years cannot withstand a marriage of even 7 months, what can possibly be so wrong between them? In response, Archi prepared himself to tell reason, “There is enough reason and I could tell you that, if you all are in a position to hear a hard truth right now.” Archi’s elder brother Dhriti said, “We are ready, tell.”
At this point Baha jumped to the scene and said, “Barobabu (Archi’s uncle the head of the family) I have something to say.” Archi interrupted her and asked her to go to her room and not come in between when elders are talking. She insisted she be heard first and said, “Please tell your son (Archi) to bring back didimoni (Mun) otherwise I won’t live in this house any more. I would go the hostel.” She turned around to face Archi and said, “Didimoni is my elder, she can say whatever to me, she can insult me I don’t mind, why are you getting so bothered? Why did you fight with your wife because of me? She turned towards the rest of the family and said, “To everybody this is my last word, if didimoni doesn’t come back I won’t stay here.”
Archi felt hurt and humiliated. At one hand he is ready to face the world with his truth about Baha, and give acceptance and recognition to their love and marriage on the other hand Baha insults him in front of everybody by questioning his need to put up a fight for her. Archi thought he made a terrible mistake by falling in love with Baha.
Later, giving into family’s insistence he called Mun. He sounded soft and regretful. He asked her in a loving voice, “Mun, won’t you come back home? Should I come to your place tomorrow to bring you back?”
And this is where the screen split in 3 parts, raised the several questions I mentioned in part 1 of this thesis and the story of Ishti Kutum entered into a realm of uncertainties. I shall end my narration of the story here and pick up the various aspects one by one for analysis. I am ending the narration here because for my analysis, what happens next in the actual show is not important. I am going to limit my analysis to what has happened so far and would make a wish for an ending that I think this story deserves.
Coming up, in the next part:
How did the impossible happen? How could Archi fall in love with Baha and forget Mun, his love of 7 years.