When Suchitra Sen died last Friday, she took her seclusion to the next level. Mysterious and aloof, she culminated her disappearance in her departure. The actress completed her withdrawal from this world the moment her mortal remains went up in flames. It had the spectacle of a space shuttle liftoff. Her soul soared to heavens while the body burned to ashes.
For 35 years she carried that body like a burden, stashing it away in guarded privacy as if to escape some kind of a wrath. She never acted again. Never gave interviews. Never appeared in public except for the brief visit to Uttam Kumar's funeral in 1980. She occasionally left the house in utmost privacy to see her spiritual teacher at the Ramakrishna Ashram in Belur.
Now we know Suchitra Sen also used to go for abrupt outings in disguise. She visited her tailor and talked to him. She used to go for a stroll at night and occasional shopping binge. She once circled half of Kolkata looking for a weight machine.
That tells us she had nothing against the external world and some of its people. But she had grown averse to mass adulation. Like a deer in the headlights, she wasn't comfortable being the centre of attention anymore. She wasn't even comfortable being the focus of her own attention. All her pictures in her house were removed.
She must have been aware that her intensifying mystery was strengthening her allure. May be she knew it all along and played it to her satisfaction. May be she couldn't care less because she had already made her choice. All that time it was, like Newton's Third Law, having an equal and opposite reaction. She tried to erase herself from the public mind getting etched deeper in their imagination.
Meanwhile, those who loved and admired her have been left in a limbo. She gave them enough emotional rope to hang themselves and left them helplessly longing for yet another glimpse of her face that worked to bloom her signature smile or roll her doe eyes. For her charm, beauty, grace and elegance, Rama Dasgupta had transformed into the wife of a wealthy industrialist. She transformed again into a screen goddess before giving up everything to become a recluse.
Every time in her every manifestation, her magic got reinforced. It's that magic which twists in the aching hearts of millions. In the midst of sighs and tears, they must now learn to accept that they won't see their icon again in her earthly incarnation.
Suchitra Sen's memories will continue to intrigue us, because she has been deeply embedded in the DNA of her fans. Those who grew up on the staple of Suchitra-Uttam romance seldom realised its delusional effect until much later in life. By then the celluloid reality of a black-and-white world, where men and women made supreme sacrifices for their love, had gotten drilled into our heads. Half of that drilling was done by the glamorous Suchitra Sen. The great Uttam Kumar did the rest.
Suchitra Sen's death has diminished her fans. They have lost the first lady of Bengali cinema. And that loss has marked the end of a shining era. Uttam Kumar's death had already taken a significant bite out of that innocent time when men and women loved to live and lived to love. Many of us were still able to cling to that time with the mere knowledge that Suchitra Sen was still hanging out there. She took with her the last vestige of that bygone world.
She'll continue to live amongst us in myriad reruns of her movies, the lasting testimony of a time when the silver screen was truly ruled by the epiphany of a goddess. She was above the usual muck of show business, her purity untouched by its pettiness, scandals and vulgarities. When she amusingly told a journalist that she couldn't have kissed him so easily, it was only an affirmation that she wasn't ready to negotiate her dignity. It was perhaps that dignity which made her a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
Suchitra Sen had already left us 35 years ago and last week was her second leaving. In a way, her death has redeemed us. We can spend more time looking for her in our hearts instead of hopelessly waiting for a glimpse of the recluse in self-confinement.
The irony is that she'll have to leave this world many more times before her earthly journey comes to its end. She was withdrawn from the world that was drawn to her, and her memory burns in millions of hearts. She'll live in the moisture of wistful eyes, torments of yearning hearts and anguish of nostalgic minds. Until the last soul that loves her also meets its end.
The writer is Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.