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Arupa Patangia Kalita
Date of Publish: 2015-08-08

 

Arunima’s Swadesh

Arupa Patangia Kalita

Translated by Dr. Mukuta Borah and Rajarshi Kalita

 

(Last  part of the novella)

VI

Birds of a forest also come back to their home in the evening; even the animals of the jungle do not forget their layers.  The people too returned to their homes.

Her father-in-law stopped at the gates of the house. He is unable to go in. He is lingering, with his hands on the gate.

“What happened deuta?” Baby laughed.

“My home, my land, property-- it’s here…” Within a night’s time, the hardworking man seems to have aged a lot.

“Come inside deuta,” she took the trembling person inside.

After giving a cup of tea to their father, Arunima, Baby, Ami, and her mother-in-law entered to see the backyard kitchen garden. The cows have come back and are chewing their cud in the cowshed. The new born calf of the dappled cow is happily butting and sucking milk from its mother. Everything is the same, just that all is covered with black soot. The green color of the trees and the leaves have faded away, the grass has dried up. Everyone went to the pond-side. Standing in front of the pond she let out a scream and then Baby, Ami, and even their mother started hollering. The pond has turned white with dead fishes. Listening to their hue and cry, both the man, who had gone inside to bring something, and their father reached behind the backyard.  Both of them became silent after watching the floating, dead and pallid fishes of the pond. The youngest brother-in-law who had just reached in the morning also rushed to the spot with his suitcase still in his hand. He also got down on his knees when he saw the fishes. He was the one who had brought the fingerlings from the fishery office; all were fingerlings of the Rohu fish. They have already been a kilo or a kilo and a half by now.

Suddenly, accompanied by stampeding thuds, ten or twelve army personnel arrived there. They already had ransacked the house. One of them immediately caught hold of Rupam, her youngest brother-in-law. One of them snatched the box from him and broke it to pieces. Everything scattered out, a few pieces of men’s wear, packs of pickles and pitha sent by his maternal aunt, some bundled up branches of flowers. After hustling up the family with enquiries about their renegade son, they left taking Rupam along with them. His brother, who had just changed his shirt, put it on again and without taking any food went out as well. The tiresome process continues again --police, courts. It is not possible to keep the boy in the house anymore, he is a B.A. third year student now. Everybody had thought of sending him off to the university after he completes his graduation. He is good at studies. He has a major in History, and has good marks till now. The middle one has done what he wanted to do. Now all rest their hopes on him. The boy is mature for his age. He tries to earn his pocket money by himself; he gives tuitions, and sometimes he engages in small business dealings as well. He had put the fishes in the pond with an eye on the expenses of his university education. He also has a farm of thirty chickens through which he is not only supplying the house with eggs but also has earned some money. He is taking care of the betel-leaves and nuts, cows and goats of his house. For the last few days he was also talking of bringing some ducks. Remembering the face of the hard-working boy, who always had a tune on his lips, hordes of pale dead fish floated in the heart of his elder brother. After the other one has left home, the boy has had to face a lot of harassment from the police and the military. The brother started walking faster, he has to do something. Who knows what they will do to him? Everybody is worked up and uptight, everywhere.

It seemed as if the dead fishes have spread all around the house. On both sides of their house, the two dacoits have engaged daily wage earners. In the garb of instructing their workers, both houses are also hurtling verbal abuses at them as if those incidents were all planned and done by the people of their family.  Their home is now on its knees. They have to clean the pond, bury the dead fish, and give some fodder to the flock of hens, cows, and goats. The people too need something to eat. No, nobody seems to care.

Her Mother-in-law silently tried to milk the cow. Though the calf drank lots of milk the entire night, she was able to get about a pao. She cleaned some rice flakes and poured some hot milk in the bowl and offered it to Arunima. “Dear, don’t let the one inside you suffer.” Gradually the entire house got back to work.

The man came back home with Rupam towards the evening. He had to submit a written document saying that he would inform the moment the renegade brother came back home in order to secure Rupam’s release. All of them are forcing Rupam to go back to his maternal uncle’s house, let him study there, if necessary let him give his exams there.  He won’t go, he doesn’t want to leave his home. How much can the elder brother do? With his job in the bank, it is very difficult for him to handle the daily chores of the household. He does not want to go leaving all the burdens on his father’s shoulders. He has always been adamant, since his childhood; if he says no, it stays no.

The boy infused the house with the excitement of a youth of twenty one years. He even managed to collect compensation from the government meant for the pipeline fire affected people, cleaned the pond and released fingerlings back there again. He also arranged the garden for Baby by dividing various plots with broken bricks. Baby bloomed in smiles seeing the various sized whitewashed bricks as margins in her garden. One day Rupam went to the town alone to enquire about flower plants. Her smile brightened even more when she received the special flower plant which blooms like red fire balls. He told her that he had ordered for fifty dahlia cuttings as well. Oh, dahlia means the flowers would be really something then. People will stop to watch those flowers. The size of the petals will differ. There will be more than five to six colors in a single plant. If they are taken well care of, then the size of one flower would be bigger than a lotus. Baby’s eyes were glistening while listening to the stories of the flowers.  A dream of a dahlia with four or five colours started hovering over the days of the family. Bricks, sands, and pebbles fell on the yard. A toilet was also built next to her bedroom.

Her body has now become heavier. She now walks slowly and carefully, even on the sanded and pebbled yard.

One day Rupam called some people and prepared to harvest honey from the tree. The honey-comb was now sagging from the elephant apple tree. In a full-moon’s night, watching the two men creating heavy smoke under the elephant apple tree, not only Baby and Ami but Arunima too started screaming, the bees are going to leave. Rupam spoke out in a tough tone, “What kind of people are you all, bou! Bees, once hived, don’t go away easily, is it so easy to leave? They prepare the comb with such struggle, is it possible for them to leave it just so?” She looks at the boy who is overseeing the process of harvesting the honey comb. After the incident, the young boy has all grown up. A big bucket of honey was harvested. He tells her, “Won’t we need honey later? Where will we get pure honey then? I have seen my younger uncle; he looks around desperately to get pure honey for the baby.”

That night she could not sleep soundly. A group of bees repeatedly leave the honey-comb, she ties the bees that left the honeycomb with her anchal, once an empty branch of the elephant-apple tree swings in the breeze, another time a host of fallen honey bees carpeted the ground near the elephant apple tree, she starts sobbing when she tramples them under her feet, the honey bees flying away, she runs behind them; unable to run, she stays fixed at one spot, she screams loudly from the bed “Rupam, Rupam”. She starts groaning. The whole house woke up. With eyes filled with fear she holds Rupam’s hand and asked in a fearful voice, “Rupam, the comb of bees, the bees, Rupam, the dead bees…”    

The mother-in-law offered her a glass of glucose water and said, “it is a Saturday and also a full moon night, why should the pregnant woman stand under the elephant apple tree until midnight?” This time she starts scolding her youngest son. “Such greed for honey, now drink honey. The chief one must have possessed her. I too had the same experience when Rupam was inside me and I had gone to attend nature’s call late at night.” She now calls her eldest son, “Go to Monai Bez, she will send some enchanted water.”

She leans her heavy body on her brother-in-law; she still holds his hand, “Rupam, the dead bees, lots of dead bees are lying under the trees; and the honeycomb, is the honeycomb still there?”

Ami wipes her face with a damp towel, the man speaks while putting on his pants and shirt, “I will get the doctor, she has hardly slept.  She sleeps for a moment and then again wakes up, again gets startled and shocked.”

Rupam shouts at Ami “Ami ba, open the window facing the garden.” Ami has opened not only the window facing the garden but also all the other windows. The sky outside is now lighting up, soft pinkish chunks of clouds are there in the light smoky sky.

“Look bou, there is the honey comb hanging there. Have a close look.” Rupam himself helps her drink the glass of glucose water.

She slowly sat up straight. “Look bou, those are the honey bees. That is the hive. They have started gathering honey again.”  She looks through the window facing the garden. The honeycomb is shining in the morning light on the branch of the elephant apple tree. Just that the shape is different now. It is not oval and longish anymore, but round.

 

VII

 

In the morning, at the tea table, everybody was eating puffy luchis with honey. Ami was about to start knitting a white sweater, Arunima and Ami were trying to coil the wool into a ball. She suddenly says out, while she was making the squares of the sweater with the sticks, “So many squares are to be made, such a wide back.” Immediately the sombre girl turned crimson in embarrassment.  Her sister-in-law whispered in her ear “you have got a manly husband. You have to tolerate this little trouble.” Her face flushes further.  The crimson hues seemed to mix in the whiteness of the wool.

Baby was chattering as always. “Dada, are you going out?” 

“What do you want, my darling? I have already brought the flower saplings.”  Rupam makes a face at her.

“You shut up,” Baby goes to her eldest brother, “Dada, I shaped the rose trees yesterday, will you bring me the manure? Other flowers will bloom so nicely, we will not feel good if the roses don’t.”

 “Ok, I will get it for you, what was the name of the fertilizer?”

“Rose-mix, dada.”

“This time, our darling will write the names of flowers in her physics and chemistry papers.” Rupam takes a luchi from Baby’s plate.

“Eh! I am the only one to get an A grade in the first year; Principal Sir called me to his room and told me that I can secure a position also if I try hard.”

“Ok. Then study hard, I will enrol you in the medical line, I will bear the expenses,” Rupam strokes her curly hair.

“Shall I be fortunate enough to get treatments from our own doctor at home?” Her father came out from the prayer-room and sat at the tea table.

“Obviously yes, deuta, why not?” Offering the plate to her father-in-law she prepares a fresh cup of tea. Now-a-days, he takes tea without sugar.

Mother gives her the just-milked milk and said “buwari, boil the milk.” Ami rose up leaving her knitting there, “Ma, why do you always give bou to boil the milk? The milk always spills over right in front the eyes; she may be burnt some day.”

She sees the typical laughter of her man after many days—he is laughing, his eyes closed, face raised up.

“What is there to laugh so much? How many days have I told you to get a milk cooker?” she snorts.

“I searched for your milk cooker everywhere. It’s not to be found anywhere. Actually there are very few customers like you. The company do not make any profits. So they stopped the product itself.” There were jokes written on the man’s face.

“You have nothing else to say?” She is now a bit angry; the tip of her nose is covered with droplets of sweat.

“Bou, bring out the old one, I will try once, It’s only the whistle that is not working.” Rupam persuades Baby to make another cup of tea.

The kitchen is filled with the aroma of boiling milk, just as if somebody is simmering up some kheer.

The calling bell rang outside. Tommy started barking. Tommy is a black colored mongrel, it has been in the house for many years now. He is quite old and can barely see, he walks by sensing his way around. He is not interested in barking or yelping now-a-days. He just lies on the front verandah after his meals. He doesn’t care even when goats and cows gobble up the flowers right in front of his eyes. That is why Baby always reprimends him. Tommy’s harsh non-stop barking cracked the morning into splinters. Everybody sprang up. Rupam shouted at Baby “Get inside”.  The Eldest brother looked at Rupam, “Don’t you come out.” He went out. Yes, it is the Army. They however have not come into the house, they are waiting on the verandah. One handsome officer shook hands with him. The well-mannered, higher level officer desired to meet his father.

Nothing has been put into the pot despite being lunchtime. All the work remained as it is. Everyone is sitting in the drawing room. Tomorrow there is surrendering function. A lot of high-level officials, the Chief Minister himself, one central minister, reporters from television, newspapers and radios would be there, it was formal, serious organizing. Their father has been invited there.

“But why me?’ his father’s mouth was wide open.

“Why? Because you are the father of a notorious terrorist leader.”

Her mother’s head starts reeling again. Before pouring the oil-based water she asked in a weak voice “Ours, he…?” Arunima noticed that corners of her eyes are feeling up with tears. Her eldest son merely shook his head, “No…not he.” Arunima held her mother and took her to bed.  While massaging her head she could hear that the dacoit’s wife was passing comments at them, while pretends to wash clothes near the tube well. “Why can’t these people go away? It is because of this house that we also have to face problems. Police and military throng there all the time.” The woman is beating a towel against the newly built, brick-plastered round structure around the tubewell. Arunima closed the window. After laying her m other down, she stepped on the backyard verandah to go to the drawing room. Noticing her, the officer’s wife came forward.

“What happened? The Army right in the morning? Did they take away Rupam?” The woman was laughing.

“No, they had come for some other matters…”

“What matters? Has he been killed?”

“I don’t know.” her face flushed in anger.

 The officer’s wife hissed with sympathy, “My heart cries out when I see your face. I wonder what sin had you committed that you have to live with such tarnished people.”  Tears rolled down Arunima’s eyes out of humiliation and anger.

“Oh, oh why you are crying? This is fate, you see.” The officer’s wife came closer, “You know, they have sent a letter of demand yesterday.  Someone with a green eye has told them about my hubby, he has achieved all this after so much of hard labour”.  The voice of woman reduces to a whisper: “Can’t you reduce the amount by requesting them? Everything is in the hands of you people.”

She jumped away like one does from a poisonous snake. That is why she is all sympathies today; on other days, when the army or the police come, they would shut their doors and windows, and shower indirect abuses on their household. 

The Officer’s wife gave her a crooked smile “Have you built a new bathroom? What have you put on the latrine floor--marble or tiles? My husband bought the commodes themselves for seventeen thousand each. You don’t need to build houses like us nevertheless....”

This time the tears started flowing from her eyes. Mrs Officer left.  In the meantime it was decided that the father will go to the surrender-program. How can one fight with crocodiles staying in the water?

VIII

One day after coming back from her maths tuition classes, Baby said that he called her Shalini and offered to drop her home in his car. Paralyzed with fear, the house realized today that the girl, who constantly talks of flowers, has bloomed into a seven-hued dahlia herself. Rupam’s duties increases by another now--he does not allow her to go out anywhere alone. He has decided that when he goes to the university he will take Baby with him and get her admitted in a college there in Guwahati. Their father himself requested the groom’s family and fixed the date of Ami’s marriage in January. The groom is extending two rooms in their house and that is why they have to wait these few months.

 Not only Baby’s tuition, the rhythm of the whole town came to a standstill. A minister was blown away along with his car by a remote controlled bomb on the main road itself. The T.V, radio and newspapers carried the name of the middle one and his statements claiming responsibility.  His new name can be seen in newspaper and magazines quite frequently nowadays.

The people of the town were stunned again, even before the hole on the main road was filled up. Three among the four surrendered ones, who had shifted to Guwahati, were gunned down when they were travelling towards Guwahati.

It was as if somebody had transferred the hole of the road and placed it in their house, torn limbs and blood. As if the whole family was pushed in to the ditch, the family fell on their face in the pile of dead bodies and puddles of blood. As if the three bodies, shot dead, lying amidst congealed blood in the silent fields, were dragged right into the living room of the household. The flesh is rotting, the intestines seem to wrench out in the stench. The household is unable to breath, unable to sleep, unable to eat.

Their father went to Tezpur in the morning to visit his younger brother and took Baby and Ami along with him. He planned to keep them there for some days. But they came back in the evening bus itself. They are painting their house. It is difficult to have guests.

Baby’s tuition master told her not to come again because he stopped giving tuitions for some days.  The officer’s family raised a tall wall on their side. The merriments of his son’s annaprasanna did not reach them crossing the wall. The dacoit also built walls made of slit bamboo. These days there is hardly any sound of scolding and washing clothes coming from the tube well side... just a stifling atmosphere hung about.

One night, their father’s pressure shot up and his face became contorted. Not a single doctor visited the house. They could breathe again only in the morning when they got him admitted in the civil hospital. Somehow this time their father could come back without any major damage. Such a major accident happened, but none came to ask about what had happened.

Winter is knocking at the door; lots of work is still left to be done. The garden needs to be ploughed, the bamboo supports for the water-gourds need to be constructed. If they don’t plant the gourds now, when will they bear fruits? They have to construct the support for the kidney bean plants too. And Baby’s flower garden? The garden that is ready with the divisions made of broken whitewashed bricks? Those fifty cuttings of dahlia flowers ordered by Rupam—there are seven colours on each flower, each  flower is bigger than a lotus. Who will do what?

Rupam feels that very often he comes across unknown face on roads and markets. As if someone is planning something! He felt as if a net chases him like a trap. That night near Borphukhuri, a few boys wearing black clothes over their face had alighted from a maruti van and had affronted him. He was fortunate enough that the headlights of two approaching trucks lit-up the place, and the boys drove away in their car.

One day his elder brother took him out for a walk and told him about the men he had met twice, men with black masks over their faces.  Holding the shoulders of his brother seven years younger, he cried out “Rupam, I am really afraid this time.” Rupam’s eyes were also wide with fear “Dada, I have also met them twice. Once…” His voice turned silent. A maruti van with dark-tinted windows sped by them. Both of them left the road and returned home through the paddy-fields. There are two big craters in both their hearts, torn limbs of humans, a lump of brains, clotted blood.

That day after dinner both Ami and Baby were washing the utensils near the tube well. Suddenly a rustling noise could be heard amidst the banana trees. Baby threw a stone towards the sound. Both of them saw two gun-men in the midst of banana trees, their faces covered with clothes. They left their utensils wherever they were and ran inside, screaming and shouting.  They were unable to say anything, they were trembling like reeds. After a long time Ami could mutter, “Black masked….” The eldest brother wanted to go out with a torch to check what was there. But Rupam stopped his brother, clutching him from behind, “Dada, don’t go dada”. Everyone saw that the vivacious boy who used to laugh all the time is now crying in his brother’s bosom.

“Don’t cry Rupam, don’t. There are dangers that come in the human life.”

“Dada, I am not afraid of dangers...but these are not dangers.” The boy turns obstinate.

“Dada, what have we done? What is our fault?”

After seeing his sister-in-law, Rupam wiped his eyes dry. The woman has become very sleepy these days. She doesn’t know what has traversed meanwhile. Her eyes are wide open with fear, “Rupam, somebody is talking near the window of the bed, they are talking in whispers.”

The man wants to reassure his frightened wife. “What did you hear?  You are always like that, you wake up and see the beehives flying away…”

Rupam spoke out in agitation, “Dada, you please take bou to her home tomorrow, immediately.”

“Why Rupam? I was planning to go home only after a month”. She is taken aback and is also a little hurt.

“No bou, you need to go tomorrow”. Her mind sank listening to Rupam’s voice, when and how did all these fears accumulate in the voice of that boy, the boy who was always cheering up and comforting others?

“Yes, Rupam is right. I will take you to your home tomorrow.  Staying here, your mind has turned into God-knows-what”. The man’s voice sounds as if it is coming out from a well of tears.

 “I will go, but not tomorrow, after one week. I need some preparation too”. She tries to smile, but couldn’t. After a pause, she says, “I will take Baby and Ami with me.”

The father who was quite for a long time speaks up, “Buwari, you don’t have to take my girls.”

“But why deuta?” She spoke out, pained.

“The shadow of death has fallen on them too. My own brother, my own brother whom I educated, got him married and set him up, did not want to entertain even their shadows. I have fallen into a very deep ditch, buwari.”

Tommy is yowling outside. Hearing that, all of them went out. The old mongrel was foaming, going in circles and yowling.

“He has been poisoned.” her father spoke in a trembling voice.

“Only Tommy? We will all be poisoned.” Rupam turned pale with fear.

“Who will, dada, why will we be poisoned? What have we done to whom?” There was bewilderment in Baby’s voice.

“Baby, don’t ask who, why, what for?”

 The man took Rupam inside, holding him by his hand. “Come Rupam, tonight you sleep in our room.”

Rupam jumped up immediately after lying on the bed, “Dada, listen bou, listen…” All of them heard the slowly retreading steps of heavy boots emanate from the other side of the wall. All three stayed rooted where they were, shell-shocked.

“I will take you home tomorrow itself,’’ the man speaks after a long time.

“Go bou, if you stay here…” Rupam’s voice chokes in a mysterious fear.

 

IX

Today she is preparing to leave for home for three to four months. Rupam and her mother will accompany her. They will go by the ten o’clock bus in the morning. Initially they planned to hire a car but later dropped the idea. Rupam suggests that traveling by bus is quite safe. At least a bus full of passengers will be there next to them.

Early in the morning she saw that Baby, wearing an old tee-shirt of her brother and a faded skirt is busy with her small spade in the garden. Everybody is familiar with this dress. They have named it the kamzari dress. Very attentively, the girl is trying to smoothen the earth inside the brick-boundaries. Almost two squares have become as smooth as eggs of a fish.

“Baby, what are you doing?” She goes near the girl.

“Bou, how come my nephew will visit his home without any flowers in the garden? All the flowers will bloom during his first visit.” She looks at the body of her bou.

The sound of the gate startled them both. The fall of a leaf also wakes up the house nowadays. Ami’s would-be husband has come. The boy has visited them after so many days. Baby and her bou took him inside the house.

“Ami ba”, Baby goes inside with an excited voice. She has not revealed to anyone that she has heard her sister cry several nights.  She knows the reason behind the tears.

Ami came inside with cups of tea. Her sombre face reveals a look of unconcealable joy. She looks down, afraid that she will be caught by her bou.

“Our Ami’s condition was almost like the sky in a new moon night. Hopefully there will be moonlight today”. Arunima teases her would-be brother-in-law. His name is Chandra Mohan Baruah.

Not taking the cup of tea offered by Ami, he spoke out in a very harsh voice, “The darkness of the new moon night seems to be the real truth, bou.”

Bou and Ami were both confounded. She has noticed that Ami’s eyes are moistening. Already everyone has gathered in the drawing room.

Their father asked eagerly, “My son, is your house ready?” He wants to marry his daughter off as soon as possible.

 Chandra Mohan has not taken anything, “We have stopped the work for some time”.

“But why so?” She herself asked the question.

“That means you will not marry now?” Rupam’s voice was harsh.

“I am not telling no. Let the situation become a little better.” Ami went inside.

 “Why don’t you say clearly that you do not want to marry a girl of our family, why don’t you admit that?” Their elder brother directs Rupam to stay silent. He knows that after sometime Rupam will be flushed with anger and then he would become hysterical. For the last few days Rupam’s mind has totally broken down.

“You proposed Ami yourself. She had received other proposals too.” Her brother wants to keep his voice low but he is unable to do so.

“These things didn’t happen then.”

“What has happened now?” Baby’s voice is very straight.

Chandra Mohan has his head down.

“One of our boys has become a terrorist. But then, there are laws and codes of the nation for that. We are not criminals. My younger brother and elder brother are not terrorists, and neither is ma nor deuta. So why are you treating us like that?”

“Baby you shut up”. Mother scolds the young daughter.

“Let me speak, ma”, Baby’s lips are trembling. “How can all the members of a family be the same? Your own brother is a drunkard and he is there found lying in the ditches often. Have we ever denied you our sister because of your brother?” Her voice has become coarse and sharp. “Your elder sister’s husband is suspended from his job because of a scandal of money laundering. Are you inside the jail because of him?  Did you lose your job?” Everyone is standing motionless, stunned into silence. Who has lit this fire inside the girl, the girl who talked only of flowers?

“You may not marry Ami-ba, but you cannot behave with us like we are criminals”. Baby wants to go inside. An incomprehensible sense of betrayal and pain causes her eyes to fill up.

“Baby has not said anything wrong. Chandra da, you are an educated man. Tell me-- don’t we live in a civilized society?” Rupam speaks up.

“Why not? In Afghanistan, one of India’s planes was hijacked and the entire world condemned it” Chandra’s voice is dry, “We live in a civilized society, why not? This is the twenty first century.”

“One of our boys has chosen a path of his choice. That is his decision. Time alone will tell whether he is right or wrong.  But why do we have to live like this?” 

Rupam folds his pyjama--a bandaged-wound, “Look Chandra da, somebody shot me last night.”

All of them let a gasp of shock.

“I don’t know who had shot me, I was lucky enough that it only grazed my leg. Some shadowy figures keep following me on the road. Baby and Ami saw them near the tube well. Bou can hear their conversations from her bedroom-window. Somebody may kill us anytime, but we don’t know who.” Rupam covers the wound.

“Yes Chandra, we are in great fear. You take her away very soon, following the minimum rituals”. Her brother’s voice sounds very similar like their father’s.

Chandra Mohan rises, “Let the days be good and normal again.”

“It is not the days, it’s the mind that should turn good,” Ami’s sombre voice falls on their ears.

Chandra Mohan left. He did not have a single bite.

Her man and mother-in-law decided to accompany her to catch the ten o clock bus.  Rupam decided not to go. Both mother and son will come back tomorrow morning. She will come back after some months. Baby kisses her bou, “There will be so many flowers that you will be surprised.” Ami came and stood near her. Her mind turned solemn when she saw Ami smile. “Bou, always keep your spirit fresh, we will drop in a visit someday.”

After they get into the rickshaw, she looked back at the special branch of the elephant apple tree, yes it is there. The honeycomb has turned oval again. May be in a few days it will be drooping with honey again. When the rickshaw started moving, she ordered it to stop. “Baby I will send a Parijat branch back with mother. Plant it near the elephant apple tree. They say that the honey made out of the Parijat flower is very sweet”.

“Ok bou.” The eyes of Baby and Ami are misty. Rupam’s face has flushed. She turned back at the house-covered with flowers and creepers.

Baby and Rupam’s questions were whirling in her mind, “What have they done? What injustice was done by the people of the house?”

The rickshaw started moving. The house could be seen no more. Just a mixed fragrance of different flowers followed her for some distance.

 

X

She gave birth to a male child, a healthy baby. Those who came to see the child said that he has inherited the looks of the paternal family.

On the function after a month, all of them came by the morning bus. They surrounded the baby as soon as they reached. Baby and Ami have brought lots of tiny embroidered dresses while grandma and grandpa have brought a gold chain. Rupam has brought a new rattle, and the man? He must have picked up all the baby stuff available in the market. The range of both useless and useful baby products made her laugh. She looked at the baby who is shaking his legs and arms, eyes wide open. Who is as fortunate as him? They wanted to leave right after having tea.

She came to her room and asked Rupam, “Has anything new happened?”

“For a few days nothing has happened.” Rupam’s voice has a note of suspicion.

“Have you seen those again?”

“We have not seen them for almost a month.”

“Dark-tinted windowed car?”

“No, not for a month’s time.”

“Has the menace passed by?”

“I don’t think so bou. Maybe they are planning some new conspiracy. Have you read yesterday’s newspaper?”

“I have read”, her voice couldn’t come out, even when she wanted it to.

“After reading the news, our father closes the doors and windows right in the evening.” Rupam has turned red.

“But when will you take me?” She wants to change the topic of conversation.

“You know bou, in that house the old woman was ninety years old, the baby was four years old.” Rupam stood from his seat. “You stay here for some more days, bou.”

Everybody went out. Inside the room Arunima was with her baby and her man--she came closer to the man. Two extended arms and a little warmth, as if she can smell something--dry basil leafs and marigolds, a pinch of turmeric and besan paste stuck to a gold chain. Nothing else, indeed there is nothing else.

Carrying the child in her arms she comes down towards the verandah to bid them farewell. She asked loudly--“when will you come to take me?” Her brother answered. “My new car will come during the first week of next month. You need not come, I will go and drop her.”

“Bring sweets for the new car too,” she heard that giggling laughter of Baby after a long time.

She and all the members of her house kept on looking at the family going out from the verandah. Before entering inside her brother commented, “How could a boy get spoilt in such a cultured family?”

“Just like our big brother had,” her voice is straight. Everybody looked at her sternly. Taking the name of the eldest one is not allowed in this house. He did not study; he started drinking right after entering college, and married a girl from a notorious family. He has a brood of children now. And he stays a little away from the town in a one-roomed rented place. He is now dealing in a trade of smuggling illegal materials from Siliguri. The family comprises of one doctor and a lawyer son, two educated daughters-in-law, a professor, an engineer, a bank officer are the sons-in-law, three educated daughters.  The name of the drunkard eldest son is not to be uttered.  She broke the suffocating silence again “He went for a cause, whether right or wrong, but our eldest dada? Why has he gone to hell? Was he not from a cultured family?”

A few ladies entered, opening the gate. They are invitees of today’s occasion. Suddenly everyone is busy with the ladies.

“Come mami.”

“When will uncle come?”

“Wah! Monti has grown a lot.”

“What is Anju’s result?”

A host of guests have come one by one. The atmosphere cleared very quickly once the guests arrived.

She becomes quite after listening to the news. Once again four members of a family were shot dead by phantom-like, untouchable, impalpable killers. The people of the village cremated four shrouds together. As if the unidentified killers are playing badminton or tennis on a safe court. If you have one point, I have three, if you have three, I have five. Newspapers, radio, carry the news without any excitement-- this side lost one today, that other side loses two tomorrow. She is unable to resist further. What is happening? How are they living?

One day, she packed the clothes of her baby, and then packed hers too. It’s been a month since her brother’s new car has arrived. She has noticed that her sisters-in-law are not asking her to stay for some more time now. Even her mother didn’t say anything after listening to her. A slow song of marriage rang in her ears, tumar gharat jiraisilu (I rested in your house). She suddenly got impatient to go back to the house full of flowers. Her mother is now days primarily busy in the namghar. The house and other responsibilities are upon the two sisters-in-law. She has to ask for the shelf key from her bous to have a biscuit with her tea in the morning and evening. But she always gives a good amount of the money to her bous from the money her husband gives her at the beginning of each month. The man buys more than enough baby food every month.  Most of the baby-food is taken by the children of the house, how much can the tiny baby have? He is now just two months old. She sends a message to the house that she will go home after three days. Her father-in-law tells her to come after three-four days, after determining an auspicious day.

There are only four days left in the middle. The small one, who is one among the many babies of this house, will become the sole prince of that house. She tells stories of that house to the child.

“In your house, two aunts are waiting for you.”

“If you fly away like a swan sometime, if some old witch will turn you into a swan using black magic and make you fly away, then your aunts will stitch a dress for you with jungle creepers, without uttering a single word for twelve years, they will again transform you into human form.”

“You have an uncle there, if some wicked magician will take you away to the top of the mountain and imprison you in a silent castle; your uncle will cross seven seas, thirteen rivers and will rescue you by killing the magician.”

“You have a grandma. If some witch will take away your voice, your granny will move around you leaving her food and sleep, she will move for seven days and seven night with a lamp in her hand and brings back your voice. She will burn her hands, her face will become dark, but she will definitely get your voice back.”

“You have a grandpa. If some witch will inject the germs of some disease in your body, your koka will carry the gandhamadan hill for you, he will bring your medicine, and you will be alright.”

“And you know you have a father; if our prince wants that particular singing bird that nests in a silver tree with golden flowers, the diamond bird that sparkles in sunshine, your father will leave in his peacock-shaped boat towards the seven seas. In your hands a diamond bird will dance, his eyes are made of pearls; the wings will glow with emeralds.”

“Our prince will be surrounded by everybody, you will dance, ta dhin dhinta-ta dhin ta, there will be a peacock feather in your black hair. In your waist, kardhanis, and on your legs, anklets will play rinjin rinjin…you will be our larua gopal. Everybody will worship you. You will be the heavenly child among the flowers….”

            And the mother of the larua gopal? If any magician turns her into a swan by magic, imprisons her in a tree trunk, a person will be asking for the swan, for a piece of dry wood from the tree, without eating or drinking. He has been calling out for her, wailing, weeping. She could hear that call with her entire soul and self. In a mansion surrounded by the golden fruits, silver leafs, diamond flowers and emerald flowers, the mother of the larua gopal would be the queen.

By telling him stories of his house she herself falls asleep. In her dreams, she is blinded by the glazing diamond and emerald flowers, silver leaves on glittering golden trees.

Before they were about to leave, her brother got an emergency message. All the luggage was already kept in the car, all that she had to do was change her dress. Her brother said, “Not today…we will go tomorrow”. But she was so eager to go home, her own home, the baby’s own home. She does not have the patience to wait for even a single moment. She told her brother softly, “Dada, as I am almost done, I think I can go—the new car and the driver are already there.” She thought everybody would raise objections. They won’t send her alone with the baby. She waited with bated breath. But no, none seemed to have raised any special objection. In that house nobody allowed her to go alone anywhere. If she had to go to toilet at night, all of them would wake up at night. The objections raised by her brothers and bou seemed very superficial. Have the Jirania bees rested for a time longer than it is necessary?

Was it out of her rights to rest that long?  She went and sat herself in the car quickly.

Towards evening, the car entered the small town. In the evening glow of the sun, she felt as if she had indeed become the queen carrying a prince on her lap. The car is like a chariot pulled by two white horses. They were informed by phone. Her brother had informed that. What is the man doing now? Baby, Ami, Rupam and their parents must all be waiting outside? May be Baby is looking over the flowers, cutting out the withered ones; She would welcome the nephew with flowers, after all. Amy must be giving the last stitches to the tiny dress of her nephew or she might be ironing the small dresses decorated with tiny laces. Is Rupam pouring honey inside the bottle? He has seen his uncle hankering after pure honey for the child. She laughed a little loudly. The mother might be throwing mustard seeds all around the four boundaries of their house, who knows what evil gods might do to the grandson. Father-in-law must be fidgeting around for milk even though they have enough milk at home. Looking at the busy father, everyone must be laughing and teasing as well.

“O my, look at the fidgeting grandfather”, the smile of her mother-in-law with her face covered with her anchal is very enchanting. The magical smile has flowed into all corners of the house.

“O now I am the one who is frantic?”

“Grandma has been cooking things since dawn. You must be expecting that the grandchild has already become a young man in two months and will eat all these up.” Their father laughs whole-heartily. Is the man laughing? With closed eyes, his head raised upwards?

The car entered the town and has already crossed a part of it, they have already crossed the school which celebrated their golden jubilee and where her man had his education. But why does it seem like they have not entered the town? As if something is happening somewhere? Where is the shop which prepared those nice delicious samosas? The stall which served tea in clay cups, scented with cardamoms and bayleaves? The one that served jelepis in bowls made of sal leaves also seems to have disappeared. It was right here. There are just wooden doors, one after another. Every shop is closed. Why are they closed? There are no vehicles on the road, not even a rickshaw. Nobody can be seen that she could ask what was going on. That is a herd of military, they have just passed. Four vehicles full of police. The house is right round the corner.

They crossed the corner. A strange smell of burning is hanging in the air…her home is just after a little while. The car is not able to proceed, there are so many people. Why have all the people gathered here after transforming the town into a graveyard? Police, military, a strange stench of burning. What happened, what happened to whom? Her home? She started palpitating. Did he come? She went ahead pushing the people aside. There is a chink-less chain of police and military In front of the house. Her home? What happened to her home? Almost a third of the house is blown away—there are no roofs, no walls, and no thresholds. What is left are mere charcoal pieces, they are still burning here and there. There are pieces of wood that have been thrown right near the elephant apple tree. Some pieces of broken burnt tin are lying in the ground. The house has burnt right upto the bamboo grove, right unto the betel-nut bunches. She stood dumb founded, holding the baby to her breasts.

“And the people…” She could just utter a few shaky words. Following the eyes of the people, she saw three bags of burnt bodies tied with sacks. Two military men are carrying a torn and burnt leg in a sack. Throwing the sack near the four sacks they again went inside. Some policemen are scrambling in the burning charcoal.

Sounds of weeping increased from all sides. A few heavy, suppressed parts of conversation flew in, piercing the wall of sobs, “The sound was heard till two miles”, “The windows of the house on the other side of the corner also were shattered.”

One of them brought down a hand that was stuck in the branch of the elephant apple tree. It was stuck just where the honeycomb was. She fell down upon the man’s half-burnt hand. She started weeping in sobs. The baby, who was lying on a towel, near the sacks, was moving his hands and feet around. Some woman picked him up.

Some of them kept a shroud freshly made of bamboo near the bundles of flesh. There are arrangements being made to lift the bundles on to the shroud.  Somebody has lighted an earthen lamp with mustard oil a little away from the sacks. Someone brought a few burning agarbattis stuck into a banana.  Incense smoked up in a new clay censer. She looked up on all sides leaving her sobs aside. Suddenly she held the sacks of burnt flesh to her bosom just like a mother holds her child. Not a single word, only her back is heaving up and down.

Nobody dared to take the sacks away from her.

The child started crying. She slowly rose, taking the crying child from the unknown lady she laid him down near the sacks of burnt flesh. She wanted to tell something to the infant, “yours…yours.” Unable to say anything, she started crying in hiccups. (ends)

 

(Dr. Mukuta Borah has done her Ph.D on Assamese Women Writing from the University of Delhi.  She teaches English literature and language to post graduate students of IGNOU. Her areas of interest include comparative literature, translation studies, ELLT, Indian literature in English, and American literature.

 

Rajarshi Kalita teaches English Literature at Shyamlal College, University of Delhi. His areas of interest include cultural studies, popular culture and popular fiction, colonial historiography, translation and North Eastern cultural history and politics.)

 

 

 

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