When my kid brother was born in 1941, a distantly-related granny named him as Nupur, meaning anklet. The family objected to that seemingly effeminate name, when the granny in her sweetly reedy voice said that the dah’ling is harir payer nupur. that is, an ornament on the ankle of the god Hari, an avatar of Vishnu. I have no idea how Hari looks, but Nupur certainly was cutely handsome. Mom said I was jealous of him, and maybe I was. Sibling rivalry, after all.
In those days it was possible to keep a family retainer without being rich. We had Jagannath, a young lad in his teens. He became devoted to Nupur, a feeling that was reciprocated by his ward. Actually, getting up from sleep lying by the side of Mom, Nupur would ask all the time, where was Jagannath. One day he mixed up the words and enquired where was Thannagaja. We laughed out loudly, and he cried out equally loudly.
Time passed, World War II ended, Jagannath became a young man, and Nupur was an angelic four-year old. He was still very attached to Jagannath who appeared to be somewhat distracted. Anyway, things went on like that till the time Mom lost her gold necklace. She immediately suspected Jagannath, but Dad put his foot down and told her not to because by then Jagannath was with us for over ten years. There were, of course, nudges, veiled suggestions and whispers but Dad saw to it that Jagannath was left in peace. A month or so later, Jagannath got an offer of employment from the local zamidar Balai Babu’s rich household and left us.
Two years on, suddenly one day Jagannath was on the door, at least the apparition with a sickly face on a skeletal frame looked like him. We were aghast on seeing his condition. It seemed he was sick for a very long time. After recovery, he had started working in a shop as salesman, no, he didn’t want his job with us back which Mom offered him then and there. He was passing by and wanted to see Nupur baba. A shy, unwilling Nupur was hoisted on his lap, whom he offered some lozenges. Mom gave him lunch and some money after which he left. Returning from college (a day scholar) in the evening, my elder brother saw something gleaming in a step of the stairs. It was Mom’s lost necklace.
Meanwhile, Nupur had grown into a lovely child. A sepia coloured photograph shows him sitting lost in an outsize deckchair with eyes tightly shut. He started going to school but quietly hated the proceedings there. On the excuse of checking his homework, I used to beat him up, when Mom asked me to get rid of my jealousy. Nupur suffered it all silently and didn’t even report my gravest wrongs. Once I tried my cycling skills by towing his toy cart with a rope. The cart broke down and the wreckage dragged Nupur some length resulting in deep cuts and scratches on his arms. The swimming lesson was also an experiment of sorts. To test my swimming abilities, I asked Nupur to climb on my back with his hands circling my neck. The bathing ghat in the river Ganga had a ramp like thing going into the deep waters. I jumped in so enjoined with Nupur and like a lead weight sank to possibly ten feet. I kicked the river bed and surfaced gasping and tried to get Nupur off my back. He wouldn’t let me go (why should he?) and tightened his grip on my neck more. So we went down again, surfaced, down once more…A stern-faced bather on looker watched this for some time and then pulled us up on the ramp to give me a stinging slap.
Tomorrow, I will be seventy-five. I wonder why cancer had to claim Nupur when he was just sixty.