Mistu, a ten-year-old, pale-faced girl was staring at the illuminated show case in the Super Market. The mannequin wearing a gorgeous lehenga was the most cherished article she desired to possess. But, she knew that a dream of such height was something she could hardly access to. Despite, the little girl stuck her radiant eyes on the mannequin. Her helpless heart cried out silently,”O God! Had I the lehenga, my Durga puja would have been so wonderful!” She turned her head side ways alarmingly, slouched ahead and touched the smooth glass-box where the mannequin was giving a pose in pride and pomp clad in the lehenga. The royal blue lehenga was dazzling all over in bright stones and golden embroidery. She ran her soft, thin hand over the glass-box trying in vain to touch the dress.
Her father Haran came near to take her home at the end of his business when darkness was setting in. He hollered,”You, little imp! Haven’t I told you not to touch this?” He pinched the girl on her hand. She gave out a wail and her fair cheeks and nose tip turned pink. He ignored and continued,”This dress is so expensive! Look at the price-tag… two thousand rupees!” He rounded his eyes in astonishment.
Presently, her father wrapped up his paraphernalia with a smiling face after a successful business day. He had earned ninety rupees. His business slackened with the darkness setting in this area of town mostly occupied by cloth stores, shopping malls, medical outlets and grocery kiosks. Haran dared not set up a stall in the town’s fish-market to sell such trivial like snails and crabs that his wife would collect from the nearest ponds of his village Dubchururia. Every weekend he came to this fringe of the market and spread a piece of polythene on the pavement, set his rusty, iron scales and two old aluminum tumblers containing snails and crabs and shouted his trade cry. On coming darkness people forgot him. They all thronged to the illuminated cloth stores and shopping malls. His business day ended this way. Sometimes his little daughter Mistu accompanied him. She liked the dazzling nights of the city.
Durga puja was ensuing. As the next day would be Mahalaya, Mistu was gazing still at the endless stretch of kashful that the courtyard of the house overlooked. She was getting restless for the dress she had seen in the Super Market. It seemed as though every inch of her heart and soul suddenly grew obstinate for the day’s work and they would not be set at rest until her eyes could appease their thirst by having a glance at the dress and her hands could feel the touch of the rich, silky fabric of it.
It was afternoon. She was alone in the hut. Her mother was away to collect snails from Ranibandh, the biggest pond of the village. His father had gone out to run errands for Bisheshwar, the rich money lender of the area. He did odd jobs for him besides selling snails and crabs to make ends meet. Lonely Mistu was looking at the white, fluffy clouds floating in the blue firmament typical of autumn. Suddenly she heard a knock at the wobbly wooden door. Surprised at this she scuttled and opened the door with a creak on their hinges.
On opening the door her dreamy eyes found a girl almost of her age standing before her. A fair complexioned, bright eyed country girl with dark, curly hair cascading down her shoulders, wearing a saree with red border nearly choked the young beholder to surprise.
“Who’re you?” asked Mistu suspense in eyes.
“I’m Uma,” answered the little girl, “can I have some thing to eat? I haven’t eaten anything since yesterday.”
“Where’re your parents? Why’re they not with you?” questions gushed out.
“I’ve lost them in flood. I’m driven away from my maternal house,” replied the girl with tears to the brink of her eyes.
“Where’re you going this way?
“My aunt lives there,” the girl stretched out her hand towards something vague, filmy lines of palm trees far away, “in that village.”
Before long the native girl was served with a sumptuous meal of puffed rice, milk and jaggery. She ate her fill.
She expressed her gratitude for giving her a generous meal.
“Can’t you stay here for the rest of the day?” Mistu requested.
“No,no,” answered the girl promptly, “I’ve to reach there by the evening. They’re are getting worried of me for tomorrow’s Mahalaya. I’ll put on a new dress and observe a fast to worship Maa Durga to bring my parents back to me.” Then she paused briefly and looking straight at her little hostess’ eyes asked, “Won’t you wear new dress? How many have you bought for the puja?”
“I’ve none,” replied Mistu. “My father’ll buy me a tunic later on Saptami when he’ll have laid by three hundred rupees. Then we’ll have something to wear for the festival.” Then all at once, her eyes turned dreamy and she gave vent to her feelings suppressed within the deep down of her heart,” But I don’t feel like wearing the tunic father’ll give me. I like the dress in Super Market…”
“What do you mean?” asked little departing guest.
“I want to have the blue lehenga I saw in the Super Market the previous day…”
“and you’ll have it,” uttered Uma promptly cutting her off showering a cascade of smile. “You’ll have your dream.”
And she departed, soon vanished beyond the vague lines of the palm trees.
Mistu remained dumbstruck looking ahead where a flock of herons were flapping their wings to perch on the palm tree tops. She knew that she could not believe in the words of her departing guest for it was so unlikely for her. But, she hoped against hope.
That late afternoon when her mother returned Mistu told everything happened to her. She only brushed aside the little girl’s words smilingly saying that she mustn’t harbour on whatever is unreal.
Her mother’s such words were easy enough to collapse the dream she was building brick by brick. In a corner of pillow she thought of Madhu, Rekha, Asha and Jayanti who would definitely show themselves off in their splendid attires. “How excruciating it would be! Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami will remain dull,” such apprehension arrested her innocent, delicate heart.
Time rolled on. A bit of Moon appeared behind the drumstick tree on the courtyard. The shrill notes of cicadas and crickets entirely occupied the hushed silence of the night. Presently, Mistu heard an usual, faint metallic knock at the door.
Her mother opened the gate and lo!
What was she beholding?
Mistu scuttled up to where his father was and with her little curious eyes saw his father holding a packet under his arm wrapped in bright, crispy oil paper.
“What’s it?” asked she unable to suppress her inquisitiveness still beholding the glittering packet that tempted the girl with its crispy notes.
“Where did you get this from?” her mother enquired. “What’s in it?”
Haran who was listening to them entered the room, sat down cross-legged at the threshold and narrated the entire incident, “My master Bisheshwar had been to the city this morning on an important business. On his way back he had purchased a dress from Super Market for her daughter Pinky.”
They, all were silent and Mistu was blinking in amazement.
Her father continued,” But how unfortunate Pinky was , as the dress didn’t fit her and she couldn’t wear it. She’s twelve and is growing fast. She’s in tears. My master handed it over to me for my Mistu…”
“Why didn’t he exchange the dress the next day with a better one ? You shouldn’t have taken it,” reprimanded his wife with a scowl.
Haran continued, “I refused to take such an expensive dress but you know he’s a good man, just tucked the packet in my hand saying that I should take this dress as a gift for saving his daughter Pinky from drowning into the Ranibandh six months ago. Master said that he owed me this favour.”
Mistu after a restless wait unwrapped the packet with her thin, cheerful fingers. Just in a few seconds she witnessed a great moment she had ever expected. Her mother took the dress out of the packet and unfurled it presently. Eyes goggled, lower jaw hung Mistu could not believe the spectacle before her eyes—the same lehenga in royal blue, dazzling in bright stones and golden embroidery she passionately dreamed to possess that she had seen in the SuperMarket. She felt as though she got the entire wealth of the world. The four digit price-tag was still peeping out—2000/- .
Her father shot up his brows.
Mistu thought of Uma.