Thursday, February 15, 2007

Trip for Two to Calcutta

Author’s note: After I finished reading “A Temporary Matter” in Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, I was unable to move. Not only did the ending shock me and upset me, but I was left with this empty feeling like the story wasn’t complete. I kept wondering “What happened to Shukumar? How does he handle this?” My questions will never be answered, but I knew I would sleep better at night having written my own form of answers. So for my blog, I continued Shukumar’s story.

Autumn quickly passed and Shukumar was getting ready for final exams. His students hated this time of the semester. Throughout the halls you could hear the constant complaining and whining drone on and on like a fan that’s twirling and twirling, too loud and annoying to ignore. The constant sound from the halls made him tired. Lately it seemed like he was always tired. He didn’t have the energy for anything. Not even to eat lunch. He had lost 15 pounds since Shoba left him. 15 pounds he didn’t have to lose. It wasn’t his fault. He tried to eat. He just couldn’t. Food lost all taste. Without taste, what’s the purpose of eating? He got by on coffee and a few crackers and maybe a free doughnut. Skukumar was staring at his computer screen in his office when the phone pierced his aimless thoughts.

It was his mother.

“Skukumar, how is your day going?”

“Fine, Mother, and yours?” He attempted to sound as upbeat as possible. He dreaded these calls. Since the divorce his mother called for more and more frequency. For moments at a time he contemplated changing his number. He could never do that to his mother, though. He felt sorry for her. And for himself. They were both alone.

“You don’t sound fine,” she replied, “Are you eating?”

“Yes, Mother, I’m eating. I eat all the time,” He was trying his best to conceal his lie. What should he say? “Actually, mother, I’m on my way out to grab lunch with Professor Lymen. You remember him?”

“Oh, yes, of course.” Now she was lying too.


Why does she always call when she knows we have nothing to say? Nothing has changed since the last time we spoke. He knew the answer. She was lonely. He was lonely too. He didn’t like to admit that small but crucial fact. His mother and he were in the same situation. Both lost without their life partner, their other half, their better half. However, his mother was widowed. His father died. His father never left her. His father never went off to live another life without her. He liked to believe that if it was possible, his father would have chosen to live forever with his mother by his side. That’s the difference. Shoba left him. She had decided to amputate him from her life and move on. She knew she could do better without a parasite clinging on, sucking life from her.

“Why don’t we take a trip?” asked his mother intruding on his self-pitying thoughts.

Was she serious?

“Excuse me?” he asked. Surely he misheard the question.

“A trip together. You and me. Maybe to Calcutta,” his mother said trying to sound nonchalant about the whole matter.

“You want to go back to Calcutta?” he asked, still perplexed by the whole idea.

“Yes. I think it will be good for us. You’ve said before how much you’ve regretted not going more in the past. I think we could both use a break, no, a start over. There’s nothing to lose. I have nothing tying me here and you weren’t even sure if you were coming back next semester. It’s time for a new journey.”

There it was. The answer he had been looking for. It amazed him that his mother still knew him so well even after all of these years apart. Everything she had said was true. He didn’t have anything to lose. He had always wanted to go back to Calcutta. He went only once after his father died, and even then it didn’t seem like enough. He could tell the school that he was leaving. He could do it today. He could pack up the small apartment he was forced to move into after Shoba left him. He could do this. He could explore the country. He could find the answers to his questions. He could begin again. He could start over.

“Alright, let’s do it!” he exclaimed. The instant and urgent agreement shocked and surprised them both. This was a turning point.


lauren_oliver said...

In your ending to a temporary matter I found it interesting that you chose to put emphasis on the fact that Shukumar is not eating. Why did you choose to do so? I found this interesting because in a Temporary Matter Shukumar's relationship to his wife revolved around food. I would even argue that Shoba became synonymous with food to Shukumar. Page seven is dedicated to the foods that she would bring home and the meals that she would prepare for company. The story even ends with the two breaking up over “shrimp malai”. I would love to know your reasoning.

Mara Davidson said...

I also felt like this story was unfinished. I felt like it had betrayed me somehow, I was convinced they were on the road back to each other. Even with them not staying together I felt as if the story left too much out ending the way it did. I like your ending, it was well written and struck me as a terrific way to end the story. The focus on Shukumar was needed since he was the one who was left alone, wondering what had happened to his new begining. Your ending for me was more satisfying, but maybe what the writer intended was for the reader to feel the emptiness of the darkness in the story, like the darkness the ending leaves the reader in.