Phutphuti was like any other girl in the neighbourhood. She had her hair neatly oiled and tied up in two braids on either sides of her head. Her skirt was perpetually below her knees and she was always running away from her mother.
On many a hot afternoons when the sun would pierce your skin and you could feel invisible ants biting your soul, you could hear a woman scream: “aaaiiii puti. Kothae tui? Khabi na naki?” (Ai Puti. Where are you? Won’t you have lunch?)
This would not be the end of it. Phutphuti’s (or Puti as she was called by her mother) mother could never find her and she would end up coming to our house and crying to my grandma.
“Ki kori bolo toh? Ei meye ta ke kikore ghore rakhi?”
(Tell me what do I do? How do I keep this girl home?)
My grandma would always warn me against that girl. “Baje mey” (bad girl) she would call her and would ask me to stay away from her on all occasions save neighbourhood gatherings. Keeping up appearances was very important in our part of the world.
I grew up in a world where people’s official names weren’t as important as their barir naam/ dak naam (the pet name). As a result of this oddity, I never knew what Phutphuti’s actual name was.
All I knew was that she was the girl who stayed in the pink house adjacent to ours and had a terribly loud mother. It was mandatory that we played together in social gatherings as it was only appropriate to do so. You see, we were of the same age group and we were immediate neighbours.
On one such occasion- it was durga puja if I recall correctly, she confided in me. We were tens years old and I had just learnt that America existed in Geography books. She told me, “paliye jabo…khoob tara tari. Emon jayegaye ki keu khuje pabe na. Diya ami bisho joy korte chai.” (I’ll run away…very soon…to a place where no one will find me. Diya I want to conquer the world.)
I had nodded as though I understood the whole concept of running away. I had always been an extremely lazy child and if you asked me to run, you would find that i was slower than a snail, with motivation lesser than that of a sloth.
After this brief heart to heart, my granny dragged me home and put me to bed. It had got late. I lay awake wondering whether I could too run away to America one day. But of course, I would need to get on a plane.
We parted ways when my parents decided to leave the world of mach-bhat (fish-rice) and instead settle in the world of idli-dosa. For a good ten years, I had forgotten about the girl who wanted to run away.
Today my grandma called me- something she doesn’t often do. “Ei Diya. Phutphuti paliye gyeche ekta cheler shathe. American chele…mechanic na ki mone hoye. Tina khoob kandche…” (Ei Diya. Phutphuti has run away with a guy. American guy…he is a mechanic I think. Tina (Phutphuti’s mother) is crying.)
This piece of information was greeted by more questions from my side. For the elders of that world, it was too much to take it. The boy was a christian, not even a Hindu. On top of that he was an American. It was one of those Ram-Ram moments.
They would gossip about this for years to come. But for me, that girl had achieved the impossible- she had conquered the world- the world of kakimas, didimas, their gossips and their judgemental looks.
To me, the girl with a dubious official name became my hero.