The Onus of Ancestry

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Authors: Arpita Mogford
for you everywhere to hand over this critique to you – you will find it useful for your essay on Robert Browning. Ah, I see, you have found one too – good!” She continued to speak whilst Dwita’s thoughts wandered, trying in vain to chase away Barun Mitra’s lingering shadow and generous compliments.
    Chandni, who was still a friend and classmate muttered, “Saw Barun speaking to you – why did he beat a retreat so quickly – was it Mother’s emergence or your usual ice-water treatment? But, my dear friend, Barun Mitra is not thwarted so easily, he will reappear in time, I warn you! Will the iceberg melt? He is quite terrific you know.”
    â€œMaybe – but who is the iceberg?”
    â€œDon’t you know? That is your nickname, lovingly donated by the boys of St Augustus – and all the others corroborate, those who have seen you in the course of your cultural pursuits – ‘The Miss Dwita Roy Chowdhury, actress, debater, sportswoman, stunning and beautiful, a brilliant iceberg’,” Chandni mimicked, to Dwita’s annoyance. Then she concluded by saying, “But Barun may now report otherwise –”
    â€œDon’t be absurd Chandni – I have never even met him until this minute – and in future, in view of our long and undying friendship, I hope you will be kind enough to report proceedings more promptly. Or is it too much to expect in the face of your equally-undying loyalty to some others?”
    They went on in this vein though Dwita’s mind was still preoccupied with Barun and his hasty shower of compliments. It was a strange feeling for Dwita at eighteen to be made aware of herself. Apart from her brief encounter with Brojen Halder her sheltered existence had predominantly been crowded with past and present shadows of women. In her life she had known only three men – Dibendra, Monmotho and Brojen. Two of them inhabited her recreated world of illusion and intangibility and the third was the remnant of a bad dream, unwholesome and distasteful.
    She returned home in the evening after a disturbing, thoughtful day at college. Mother Marie-Michael’s lectures on Browning’s poetic spirituality had not registered very well. The French lessons at the Ècole Française, which she was attending these days to fill her free hours in the evening had also been less absorbing. M. Armand had commented upon it. “Dwita, my gem, where are you today? What are you busy thinking? I have been calling you all of five minutes.” Maheshwari had also complained.
    â€œOh, sorry Mahama, very sorry, have I been ignoring you today?” she said, bringing herself back to reality – she embraced Maheshwari’s minute, withered form affectionately as a gesture of apology.
    â€œNo use flattering me now – the last few hours I have really been speaking to a spirit – where have you been wandering? Who and what are you thinking of?”
    â€œNothing and no one.”
    â€œYou can deceive your mother, my own, but not your Mahama.”
    â€œTell me something then – do you like my face? What do I look like?”
    â€œWhat a question to ask – I have been caring for that face all these years, rubbing cream and olive oil on it – why should I do so if I did not like it?”
    â€œMahama, what I meant was, would you call it nice or even say pretty?”
    â€œWhat worms have been eating your young head lately?” Maheshwari asked her suspiciously.
    â€œWorms? I have none left in my head, what with your constant brushing and combing!”
    â€œSomething has been worrying you, come and sit here, tell me all, whilst I comb those wild tresses.” She put Dwita down on the nearest seat, and ran the comb gently through her hair, separating each strand to disentangle the dark, thick mass that covered her head, wild, knotted and unmanageable.
    â€œIt has grown too thick and long, what a

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