The TV fitted on the wall of the 3 BHK apartment, on the 11th floor of a Mumbai high rise, boomed in its full glory. A film critic was reviewing his first movie venture, two days after its release. “Abhiroop Bhattacharya proves his mettle in his very first directorial venture. He has already established himself as an author. His versatility and eye for details reminded a lot of viewers of Satyajit Ray, who Bhattacharya himself admits, has always been an inspiration for him. However his style and technique appear to be heavily borrowed from Ray. He needs to invent his own style to carve a niche for himself in this cut-throat world of movie making. “
Abhi smiled to himself. Now that his movie was out and was receiving rave reviews, he felt the emptiness sting again. The same emptiness that always came back to him every night since he had been ten. He had been born in an affluent Bengali family. His father had been a doctor, mother a professor at a top Kolkata college. He and his twin brother, Anurag, had studied in one the best schools of Kolkata. His father had a huge library at home and had gifted each brother a set “detective novels” which he had said would soon become their favorite companion. Life, however, hadn’t been as smooth as it should have been for the brothers. Their parents had been separated when they were ten. On one of those lonely disturbed nights, while their home was being ripped down and they had been torn between their parents, they suddenly discovered their savior “Feluda”. He soon became the elder brother, the mentor and the friend they never had. The long dark nights didn’t seem that long when they had mysteries to solve, adventures to go on and countries to visit with their enigmatic brother. How true their father’s words had been !!!
The lonely summer vacations didn’t seem that long, now that they had collections of Professor Shonku to finish, short stories of Ray to read and a plethora of movies by Ray to watch, all the while their parents were busy fighting as to who should get to spend time with the kids. Their tender hearts never realized when they had found solace in a cocoon of fictitious characters woven by a master-storyteller who had helped them tide over one of the most difficult times in their lives. At 32, Abhi now realizes that in-spite of all the chaos going on around him, three people kept him grounded, his brother, his best friend Riya and of course his elder brother “Feluda”.
By the time he moved to college in Delhi, things had begun to fall in place. His parents had finally reconciled, his brother was a promising medical student and he himself was studying in one of the best colleges of Delhi. Riya studied in a premier girls’ college in the same city. As he moved out of his mischievous teens, he realized his friendship with her was moving in a new direction. Life always seems like a fairy tale when you fall in love with your closest friend. However, tranquility in his life has always been short lived and one day he realized that the emptiness was back in his life. When he broke up with her, he lost not just his partner for life but also the closest childhood friend he had ever had. His brother was busy with his own life, his parents were away in a different city and suddenly he found himself all alone again!
When he was in University for his Masters, his roommates made fun of him because he slept each night hugging a “Feluda Samagra”. Of course it was a joke for them. While they were busy discussing Rushdie and Márquez, he was still clinging on to his teenage fantasies. Little did they realize that Ray to him was the anchor that helped him tide over the occasional floods that threatened his entire existence, his escapades to his fantasy cocoon was the only way for him to stay connected to reality. He rarely traveled in a train without imagining Apu and Durga running after it through the lush green fields, he rarely read a movie star’s interview without imagining him in a crisp suit on a 1st class compartment of a train, he rarely hung out with his friends without wondering what it would feel like to break free from the shackles of civilization and run to Daltongunj.
Moving abroad for higher studies was perhaps the worst decision of his life. He had thought that a new country will help him build his life from the scratch, but the work pressure, the lack of genuine friends, foreign streets and the deafening silence of his apartment seemed to take a toll on his sanity yet again. He always marveled at how his brother, who had a good career, a lovely fiancee and a stable life, had managed to stay so grounded in spite of all the turmoil around him. Abhi had always been more immature than him. Or maybe he just felt everything more deeply. He tried to meet women, but no one could even match up to the image that Riya had imprinted on his mind. He tried to get involved in Indian students’ unions, he started blogging, he started writing novels and movie scripts, just to keep himself going. But at the end of every day, when the deafening silence of his apartment welcomed him, he rushed back to Ray for solace. Movies, interviews, documentaries, books written on him, books written by him, he left nothing out ! He watched movies that had inspired Ray, he read books that were liked by Ray. Again he felt, his fictitious cocoon saved him. On the day he flew back to the country upon receiving the news of his father’s death, he carried his “Feluda Somogroho”, not reading but holding it close, just for comfort.
His film, whose script he had written on one such lonely night in a foreign land, in honour of his favourite writer/filmmaker, was now out for the world to see. And they say his style should be different if he has to survive? He smiled ruefully, “No one survives this world, so why even try?”He switched off the TV, dimmed the lights and was planning to crash into bed with a memoir on Ray by his photographer, when the phone beeped. Reluctantly he picked up the phone. “Hi, chinte parchis? Saw your movie, it was beautiful.” Even after twelve years, the voice on the other end send a shiver down his spine. He spoke to Riya for ten minutes. She was now a journalist working for one of India’s top newspapers. Ten minutes later when he kept the phone, he had a new interview to add to his planner.
“The reviews say you should move out of Ray’s shadows. I say that the touch of Ray in every frame of the movie is what made it so complete, so unique. It touched a chord so deep that it compelled me to call you after so many years. One day when they will be able to see what I see, they wont ask you to move out of his shadows. ” She had told him on the phone.
He didn’t open his book that night. He put it down on the night stand and closed his eyes. He would sleep tonight, a sound sleep after ages. After all, today, after a long time, he had once again been able to see “A ray of hope” !