In the year 1582 AD the Italian astronomer, physicist, engineer, and polymath, from Pisa, Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de’ Galilei discovered that time could be calculated using a pendulum. He inked the blueprint of a wound-up device, which could measure time and changed the history of Christendom. Using his designs, seventy-four years later in 1656, Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and inventor, invented the first mechanical clock in human history.
The next year, in 1657, Huygens patented the design and engaged Salomon Coster, a Dutch clockmaker from Hague to build the first pendulum clock in the seventeenth century. Twenty-three years later in 1680, William Clement discovered that by increasing the length of the pendulum the clock’s accuracy could be increased.
It meant that the casing for the pendulum had to be elongated, this gave them the name of ‘Long Case Clocks,’ which later came to be known as the six-feet three-inch ‘Grandfather Clocks.’ Shorter variants of the same would come to be referred to as the ‘Grandmother Clock’. For the next three hundred years, these mechanical wonders would remain as the most accurate and trusted timekeepers of humanity.
Finally, in 1721, George Graham, an English clockmaker, inventor, and geophysicist, and a Fellow of the Royal Society, perfected the clock to the precision of a second. Two centuries later in 1912, Joseph Kieninger established the Kieninger Clock Company, the oldest and perhaps the finest manufacturer of clocks still in existence.
Now in the year 1990, one of the very original clocks built by Joseph Kieninger himself; stood at a corner of a damp and dingy room on the 1st floor of a two-storey dilapidated building housed in a tiny lane of the Hatibangan area in the city of Kolkata in India’s West Bengal state.
Brihospoti Mookerjee was the sole resident of this house, the ‘Mookerjee Villa’ and the last surviving member of his family. The fifty-one-year-old bachelor was comfortable with his whimsical and solitary life, living in this crumbling ancestral adobe along with some bygone furniture and fading antiques.
Of all the things Brihospoti owned, the Kieninger Grandfather Clock was his most precious thing. Every day he would dedicate hours to the antique clock’s upkeep. He would wind it, wipe it, clean it, admire it, and even talk to it.
The middle-aged man was as unsocial as a person could be. At a younger age, he had desired to start a family, settle down, and marry, however, as time passed, he was unable to find someone to tie the knot with. A lot of his hostility and crankiness was perhaps a result of this.
As a booking clerk of the Indian Railways, Brihospoti had spent the last twenty years of his life permanently posted at the Sealdah Railway Station selling train tickets. Like his uneventful life, his job too was as monotonous as it could be.
Apart from the nine to five railway duty, the man hardly ventured out of the house. At home, Brihospoti would spend much of his time brooding and lamenting over his solitary life. He would sadly regret his bland and lonely existence without a wife. During these empty evening hours, his only comfort was in taking care and talking to the old Kieninger timekeeping device.
Now the lane, on which Mookerjee Villa was situated was barely ten feet wide. Well, this was considered to a be good gap between houses in North Kolkata’s cramped and unplanned lanes and alleyways. For there were some passages betwixt buildings that were as narrow as two feet in breadth.
The Mookerjee Villa, a facade nearly two hundred years of age, a small house though, was built in a splendid gothic architectural style. Though today it looked like an abandoned house covered in banyan trees sprouting from its cracked outer walls, was certainly a beautiful looking home when it was built.
Presently in the year 1990, the city of Kolkata as any other developing metropolis in the world was fighting to create spaces for people to live. The answer to this space problem had come as the modern-day apartment or flat building.
These cooperative housing societies sprouted like mushrooms all over the metropolis. Closely packed and stacked against each other they were gradually replacing the old houses in the streets and bylanes of the city. Many of them were built by goonish promoters with dubious ties profiteering from illegal activities.
Chelu Panda was such a man, a black marketeer with two stores of imported goods in Khidderpore’s shady Fancy Market and an antique shop in Mirza Ghalib Street. The man had started as a roadside ruffian, who had done a few murders in his time, and now through the blessings of powerful businessmen and politicians had become a promoter acquiring old houses and building apartments dotting the city’s skyline.
Now bang opposite to Brihospoti’s house, Chelu Panda had raised his newest four-storey sixteen-flat residence. There were a lot of questions about how he acquired the old house and built this new apartment place, however, no one dared to raise a red flag or say anything. New owners were gradually starting to come, take possession and live in the building.
Chelu Panda for many years now had been after Brihospoti, trying to acquire the Mookerjee Vila from him. The goon, however, to date had been unsuccessful in convincing the lonely and melancholy Bengali to sell him the property.
Then one Sunday, in the flat right opposite to Brihospoti’s first-floor damp and dingy room housing the Kieninger Grandfather Clock, a single lady in her mid-forties came and took residence.
At first, Brihospoti had not looked at her properly given his shy and unsocial demeanour, however, after a few days while cleaning his clock he observed the lady would be constantly looking at him. She looked at him in between most of the things she did, in between nearly every of her household chores, before going out of the house for her day-job, and right after coming back from it. It was like an infatuation with her to look at him it seemed.
Initially, he felt a bit intruded, however, on looking at her properly a few times, Brihospoti could not take his eyes off this middle-aged Bengali beauty. In time he came to know from the local grocery store, that she was Mrs Halder, a widow who had lost her husband a year back and was now trying to get over her grief and start a new life.
Gradually it became an obsession with Brihospoti to sneak a glance from the corner of his eyes to look at Mrs Halder looking at him cleaning and spending time with his beloved grandfather clock, the Kieninger timekeeping device.
He realised that the lady must have found him very charming and surely had developed a massive interest or even an attraction towards him. Otherwise, why would a middle-aged lonely widow look at a man through the window all the time?
Then on a few occasions, Brihospoti saw Chelu Panda along with some of his goons speaking with Mrs Halder. Every time, his voice would become gradually louder confronting the lady, and when the ruffian left, Mrs Halder would be in tears, sobbing all alone for hours. Brihospoti could see all this through his window peering into Mrs Halder’s drawing room and thought that the hoodlum in some big way must have entrapped his secret admirer.
Brihospoti wanted to do something for the lady he had come to silently love but did not know what to do until one-day Chelu Panda and his goons knocked on his door to speak a few words.
“Chelu you can come up to speak with me, but your goons are not welcome in my house,” said the middle-aged Bengali with some newfound love-fuelled courage and assertiveness.
Chelu was surprised with this, Brihospoti had never invited him into his house previously. All their conversations were outside in the alley. Not beating around the bush and of course fuelled with the newfound courage of love Brihospoti bluntly asked Chelu, that why was he troubling Mrs Halder and he should just let her be.
Sitting in Brihospoti’s drawing room, Chelu was hardly listening to what this suddenly courageous Bengali man was saying. His eyes were fixated on the old Kieninger timekeeping device. Being a dealer in antique the ruffian had realised the worth of the clock and could not look at or think about anything else other than the priceless grandfather clock in front of his eyes.
Regaining his composure and better listening to what Brihospoti was saying, maybe for the fourth time, Chelu recognised a middle-aged man madly in love with a widow, ready to do anything to end her troubles and better her life.
“Brihospoti babu, working very hard and saving money all her life Mrs Halder had bought this flat from me. Her late husband who was an addicted gambler lost the deed of the house to me over a card game of Teenpatti. I can throw Mrs Halder out of her house any day unless she gives me, what her late husband owes me, four lakh rupees,” said the gangster to the flabbergasted Bengali.
“I see a solution, however, if you give me your old clock, I will give back the deed of the flat to Mrs Halder and never disturb her again. Hell! I will never even bother you to sell me your house,” said Chelu to Brihospoti in a really sincere and honest way.
Thinking for a bit, Brihospoti agreed with Chelu and struck the deal with him. That day Chelu and his gang took away the clock from Mukherjee Villa to his antique shop in Mirza Ghalib Street.
Right from the day after Chelu took away the clock, for some reason Mrs Halder stopped looking at Brihospoti. She seemed to be leading a happier life but showed no interest to look at him, and this was killing the middle-aged love-sick Bengali.
Then finally one-day Brihospoti made up his mind to confront Mrs Halder. He was determined to speak with the lady, tell her that he loved her and that he wanted to marry her. He was all courageous because it was she who had started all this by constantly looking at him. With a great preparation on that day, Mr Mookerjee decked himself up and caught up with the lady on her usual route back from work.
The nervous love-sick Bengali introduced himself as Mr Brihospoti Mookerjee, her neighbour from right across the street. Mrs Halder reciprocated by saying that she knew him, and a casual conversation started between them as the two walked towards their homes looking all hopeful and happy.
Then the moment of truth finally came and Brihospoti was about to ask Mrs Halder about her interest in him as she always used to look at him. Just before Brihospoti was about to stutter this, Mrs Halder said a very unexpected thing.
“Do you know Mr Mookerjee when I was shifting, in a great hurry I misplaced some of my things? When I unpacked everything I realised that I had lost my wall clock, which was very important to me. You see I am a stickler with time and need to do everything by the clock. Unfortunately, I am allergic to a wristwatch, so I decided that the next day I would go to the market and buy me a wall hanging or pedestal timepiece,” said Mrs Halder to Mr Mookerjee, who was bubbling inside like a child to tell her that she was the heroine of his love story.
“That day in the evening when I looked out of my window across the lane through yours, I saw you cleaning the most beautiful grandfather clock I had ever see. It, being clearly visible from my window I became dependent on looking at it to get the correct time for everything I did. I started looking at it to do all my chores, for cooking, and every other thing,” said Mrs Halder to Mr Mookerjee with a tone of apology.
“I must ask for your forgiveness for looking at your house all the time. I actually had no other interest other than knowing the time. For this, you must excuse me,” said the apologetic lady to the Bengali babu, who suddenly looked all pale, blank and lost in time.
“A month back, one fine day I saw that your clock was not there anymore, and with my obsessive nature that very evening I went to the market and got myself a wall clock very fine. Since then, fortunately, I did not have to peep into your window all the time,” said Mrs Halder with a deep and relieving sigh.
The lady then enquired, “well now that we know each other, can I ask what happened to your beautiful grandfather clock?” An embarrassed Brihospoti who a moment ago was about to express his deep love, barely managing his composure took a moment and big gulp to say, “You see Mrs Halder I had to sell the timepiece to save my love. Now if you excuse me, I shall be on my way! Goodbye! It seems I too need to buy myself a clock.”
Copyright © 2021 TRISHIKH DASGUPTA
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