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There’s a particular tint to the plastic buckets in Calcutta that you can’t find anywhere else in the country. A green plastic bucket in Calcutta is not the same green that you will find in Delhi or Bombay or even Madras, close as the South Indians are to the Bengalis, brothers in intellect under the skin. Nothing else is so green, so bound around with thunder and cloudbursts and fretted with fungus. Some fortunate bucket maker took that colour and moulded it into plastic—the neon wetgreen sludge of the authentic Bengal curved round and handled with shining aluminium.

The strange thing was that she had taken that exact colour and woven it into fabric. She was standing on the edge of the dais draped in heavy plastic folds of the stuff and all she needed was the ring of aluminium around her neck. Then you could have called out for Shanti or Kusum or any one of a legion of maids slapping wet clothes across a length of hard plastic washing line and got them to pick her up and haul her off to the laundry. You can’t drape a plastic bucket — it isn’t moss or leaves — and it is a colour that most immediately for city people conjures up the tiled wetness of bathrooms rather than banana leaves or thunder subdued villages. A Calcutta bucket is, after all, a bucket in Calcutta. She was married to an American diplomat—let me hasten to point out before losing you in the depths of plastic bucketness—and therefore one would have expected the banana leaves at her farewell party rather than the bucket.

She’d pursued her husband relentlessly through trails of bugged rooms and CIA whispers and reduced him to a speech at the end of a podium. "Calcutta has been a beautiful experience for me and this is the woman who was responsible for it all." The Consulate had thrown an official farewell for him and left her out of the invitation. "I am supposedly married," he said in his official voice, "but the guest list is out of my control." He was purple and boiled tomato with gold around the edge of the colour—the colour of a Roman proconsul instead of an American consul, except that the purple clashed with his boiled face and it certainly clashed with his plastic bucket wife. "We have to take such care in complementing each other," she had said once. "Normally we end up clashing."

Bucket and purple—well, isn’t it obvious? She’d chased him down dark alleys, through guidebooks and across auction rooms filled with swords and buttons until he’d hauled down his colours and taken her into American territory. Teddy Roosevelt sword in hand charging up San Juan Hill? Perhaps—except she was the one who charged. She had moved in to his rooms in the consulate before they were even married.

Was that done? Was that not done? There are little flats to be hired in the corners of Kasba and Salt Lake, trim clean pocket handkerchief flats where no diplomat goes because those are the parts of Calcutta that they are unfamiliar with. He could have hidden her there, away from her parents, away from the CIA, but he allowed her to flaunt him openly until the wedding. Perhaps that was why they hadn’t invited her to his official farewell. She and all those friends that they referred to as the Consul’s ‘new’ friends, chewing the new word out of existence: the Anglo Indian rock guitarist, the artist who had run away with the bisexual dancer, the dark and sultry social climbing model with a taste for white skin, all the people you can scrape out of the bottom of Calcutta’s green plastic bucket. People, who might have been respectable in New York but who, in Calcutta, just got labelled non-recyclable ‘plastic’ by the outsiders. "I am supposedly married," he said to her friends, excusing the slight, "but I can’t help it if my bosses choose not to accept it. The invitations were out of my control." He refrained from using the word ‘inappropriate’, though it had been bandied around. His was an ‘inappropriate marriage’, especially after the nuclear blasts at Pokhran blasted the friendship out of Indo-American relations.

To pacify his ‘supposed’ wife, the Consul had been forced to throw a party for all those people outside the Little America of Ho Chih Minh Sarani. Nothing was available for hire on the proposed evening except a claustrophobic hall belonging to a stiff Iranian cult that had been dotted here and there with mottled plastic soup bowls from his favourite Chinese restaurant in Calcutta—at least, he had said it was his favourite and she had taken him up on it and ordered them to do the catering. RSVP Miranda Wong, it had said on the bottom of that strangely scripted black edged card.

No one that green evening was in the mood for puns like ‘Wong numbers’ though it was clear, from the beginning, that it was all Wong.

Smart young things in sequinned forty pound halter blouses from London dripped sweat. Elegant women in chiffons winced at the plastic bowls and the boiled tomato proconsul and swept away into the cloudy night outside. Tuxedos wilted and bow ties drooped. And then she had risen up in front of them in all her plastic bucketness, trying to confront the chaos or recycle the riot. An official speech, she announced through the bonging, booming microphone and, perforce, everyone had to listen, including the ones who were contemplating dinners in surroundings made plush by the power of gold plastic. The consular pair had stood at opposite ends of the stage and made speeches about love and togetherness while the sweat ran down their faces.

His, as became a proconsul trying to make a dignified exit, was longer than hers. It babbled love. It babbled how there was a corner of Jodhpur Park that held forever his American heart. Through the length of that remarkable speech she hardened more and more until the only thing that stood there in the other corner of the stage was the green plastic bucket waiting to be carried away into a corner of a waiting bathroom.

"Where did you get that?’ squeaked one of her friends, voice on a rise. She chose to accept it as a compliment. After all, it was an expensive bucket.

Turning plastic to fabric can be a painful process. Someone had run gold threads through the green to try to give it an air removed from domestic utensil respectability, as she had daubed herself in layers of make up before pouring the plastic around herself.

Green? Green in more ways than a plastic bucket can be green, perhaps. So far, no other Bengali woman has been able to commit social suicide in a green plastic bucket of the kind you find in Calcutta bathrooms.

      — Anjana Basu