The Birth Mark
( Tirtha Dekar Niruddeshor Pichorchowa )
Translated from Assamese by Neeta Sharma
Absolutely calm and composed! Sometimes a single word or two can describe the total personality of an individual. These words were meant to go with Nakul Deka. After all, people who came to his close proximity, had this realization. It was not that Deka was unaware of such jealous or reverential thoughts of his friends. In his opinion, there is a unique pleasure in going ahead with one's daily routine with steady patience in the midst of life's trials and tribulations. Where lies the worth of the green grass if it is not treaded upon by footsteps ? Till date, no storm of problems or troubles had been able to shake Nakul Deka from this philosophy of life.
But for the last few days, Deka knew that he was internally suffering a lot and was gradually breaking down from within. The more he tried to clutch hard to his philosophy of life and remain stable, the more it seemed to him, as if his confidence, belief and convictions were melting away. Externally, he passed, like a fraud squinting in the presence of others. He knew that the incidents during the last few days were drawing his attention to a new definition of life. It was not long before the news had reached his ears. Such news do circulate falsely these days as these seemed to be the only pleasure for some people, almost like blowing bubbles in this air.
Initially, Deka avoided discussions on the topic, regarding it to be a piece of baseless rumour. People would meet him and ask, "Have you received any news of Tirtha?" and before they got a reply, they would sarcastically remark, "Times have changed, nothing looks good now-a-days," and would whisper something. This became an almost everyday experience for him. Still Deka did not lose his patience during the initial days. But when sentences like, "You son will come back home soon, might have gone to see a friend for a day or two," could no longer console Tirtha's mother, Deka himself went to meet the two boys with whom Tirtha lived in a mess.
Deka realized that the news was true. Tirtha had been missing from the 'Saraswati Mess' since last week. That is all. As if no one knew more than this, and even if they knew they were not willing to say anything else. It seemed as if Tirtha's classmates and those living near the mess suffered from some sort of dementia. When asked to say something about 'Tirtha's disappearance', it seemed they were haunted by unknown ghosts. The overall summary of whatever news Nakul Deka could collect was that, since the last one week his son Tirtha was missing and nobody knew anything more than this, or even if they knew they did not feel the need to speak about it. It was quite a torture for him to keep his patience and not allow it to crumble under the pressure of such circumstances. Trying to control himself, he made himself understand that according to the people he should think that his twenty year old healthy and hearty son vanished in the air with the spell of black magic. And they would console him saying that such things were so simple that Deka should not be surprised!
Whatever meagre information Nakul Deka gathered from the words of the betel nut shopkeeper near the mess, at least to some extent, cleared the picture in his mind. The betel-nut shopkeeper informed that there was a loadshedding that evening when Tirtha disappeared and he also heard some people running in the dark that evening. And late that evening he came to know about Tirtha's disappearance.
"It seems they might have taken him away -in the darkness, they might have mistaken Tirtha to be someone else. Otherwise there was no reason for whisking him away." he said
When asked who 'they' were, Anwar, the shopkeeper, promptly replied that even he did not know who 'they' were. But yes, the manner in which they came in vehicles armed with guns and ammunitions, it seems they might have been the members of security forces. "Though they came in civil dresses, yet the manner in which they talked and behaved, most people thought them to be…" Anwar whispered some words which were beyond the audible range of Nakul Deka. But Anwar was also quick enough to add, 'Do only the police or the army carry guns and pistols ?"
He is right, thought Nakul Deka; these days even tender aged boys pull out guns and pistols even at the slightest pretext of a roadside brawl and prove their immature masculinity. Such hooligans might have picked up Tirtha to demonstrate their heroism!
Then there were also those who would drag youths in the name of rebellion. The last assumption of Anwar was that Tirtha might have been missing on his own because it's quite difficult to assess the mindset of present day youth.Moreover, no one was witness to 'their' tying or gagging of Tirtha and kidnapping him. As there was a power failure at that time, so the probability that Tirtha might have disappeared by himself cannot be overlooked! For various unexplainable reasons he might have run away. Do today's youngsters need their parents' permission if they are up to something ? On the whole, Deka could gather from Anwar that the fact of Tirtha's disappearance should be taken lightly. He was reminded that like the sensational news carried everyday in the newspapers, this incident had also been given undue prominence.
But Deka was not convinced. For the next six or seven days after he met Anwar, Deka approached and met many officers from the security forces, but still could not come to any definite conclusion about Tirtha's whereabouts. During this period, he was more mentally exhausted and tired, than physically. It was not that he had not realized the gradual breaking down of the mental strength in the eyes of Tirtha's mother, who would wait eagerly for him at the door step in the hope of getting some news of their son. Deka understood that she was shattered from within at the prospect of facing an undesired reality. Helplessness and unknown fears tore her apart from within.
At birth, there was a distict birthmark of a 'tulsi' on Tirtha's forehead just above his eyes, and the astrologer had said that he had never seen a child with such a birthmark in this entire area. "At birth, Tirtha had brought with him his fortune and long life," the astrologer had said. Peeved by the fact that Nakul Deka was not impressed by the words of the astrologer, Tirtha's mother had vehemently protested and those words still echo clearly in Deka's ears, even after twenty long years, "How can you say so ? Golok Sharma is a well known astrologer of the region. If he has said that no other child with such birthmark was ever born in this area, it has to be true. Just see, how our son will excel one day...." Since that day, Deka has been unable to make his wife understand that such birthmarks do not decide anybody's fortune. Lot of people with such birthmarks on their forehead have been ruined, one actually shapes one's own fortune. Deka has always abided by this philosophy. He has always believed in conducting life honestly as a human being. And he was successful to have implanted this philosophy in Tirtha's head.
With the aid of Rajani, he secretly met the local office-bearers of some underground rebel groups but still could not get any clue about Tirtha. He enquired about Tirtha to some youths who had surrendered their arms and chosen the path of peace, but was disappointed. It was their opinion that the armed rebel group of that area had no hand in this incident. If some other rebel group from outside the district had kidnapped Tirtha, then they were totally unaware of it. It implied that Nakul Deka needed to enquire about Tirtha's disappearance from underground groups spread all over the state. According to Rajani, this may be a case of mistaken identity.
He said, "Under somebody's wrong order, someone might have picked up Tirtha by mistake".
He did not forget to add that the eighteen year old son of contractor Chandra had also been kidnapped by mistake, but before the error could be corrected, he was shot dead with three rounds of bullets. It was only afterwards that the news spread that the son of engineer Chandra Bhuyan was the actual target!
Rajani's words shook Deka. When Tirtha was just two years old, the doctor had said that he was anemic and a cup of catfish soup daily would do him good. As a daily routine, Deka bicycled miles to buy fresh 'singhi fish' (cat fish) and fed Tirtha till he was around four years of age. And today, some one might bring Tirtha's bullet-ridden body, place it in front of him and his wife saying, "Actually he was not the target, mistakenly…!"
Brushing aside such unpleasant thoughts, Deka went to the other room to say something to Tirtha's mother who was removing the dry sticky layers of tears from her eyes and cheeks, but he paused. He knew that Dambaru would be back after a little while. He would bring the authentic news about the unclaimed body, which was found near the bridge in a pool of blood and with its hands and legs chopped off. They said that the head of the body was intact on its shoulders. Was the forehead in a recognizable condition ?
Before Nakul Deka could utter anything, Tirtha's mother, breaking the silence, asked, 'Has Dambaru returned?'
Deka was silent.
"Is Tirtha the only one to have a 'tulsi' birthmark on the forehead ? So many people may have such a mark in this area and elsewhere," she continued.
Tirtha's mother was right, Nakul Deka thought, there might be similar birth marks in the foreheads of many youths of Tirtha's age in this region!
( The Author :
Kula Saikia(1959) has been honoured with this year’s Sahitya Akademi Award for his short-story collection Akashar Chhabi Aru Anyanya Galpa . A powerful short-story writer of contemporary time with his own style and ex
He is a regular contributor to the vernacular and English dailies and journals on special themes and current issues, ranging from economic development, brand management, energy planning to literary criticism and public diplomacy. Two-time President's police medal winner Kula Saikia, has a full-length novel, and the prestigious Katha Award in 2000 .
He had his Post Graduation from Delhi School of Economics after which he was teaching Economics for a while in the Hindu College, Delhi University. He worked as an officer of the Indian Economic Service in Planning Commission,New Delhi and then also as Indian Railway Traffic Service officer for a short while before joining the Indian Police Service in 1985.He was in the Pennsylvania State University, USA doing a course on Leadership and Management and also worked as a Consultant in the World Bank,Washington. He is currently an addtional director general of Assam Police. -
- Arindam Borkataki , Literary Editor, nezine.com)
The translator :
Neeta Sharma is an Associate Professor and teaches English in ADP College, Nagaon. Her published works include Story of a Story - a collection of English translation of Assamese shortstories. She has co-edited a book titled Women:Issues and Perspectives" with Arindam Borkataki.