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Monday, 16 September 2013

THE SPRING OF 90 By Sobhan Pramanik

THE SPRING OF 90

Sobhan Pramanik

2002 – The Present.

It is raining heavily. The sky appears to have thrown across itself a shawl made of deep grey wool. I am running on my toes towards the river bank with my blue rubber sandal tucked in the curl of my fingers and a diary held against my chest. Each running step landing on the rain soaked earth kicks up innumerable droplets of mud that splatters onto the rolled up trouser of mine, creating an untidy mosaic. My body has given up but my legs still desperate to catch the last ferry to cross this river.

‘I have to’ I pump myself.

I am running since the past few minutes and I feel as if someone has evacuated the air out of my lungs with a vacuum pump. The atmosphere seems to have stopped existing around me. My ears are buzzing with the incessant drumming of an insane rain. I open my mouth to inhale some oxygen as the impact of a stentorian roar of the pouring sky made me fall on to the rain puddled earth over my chest. A cry of intense pain left my throat…but it was devoured so neatly by the sound of thunder and rain that even I couldn't hear it.

The reality is so much like the drowning of my cry in the drumming of rain. We expect people to listen to our pain and grief when they themselves have turned deaf by the screaming of their morose heart.

Lying on the mud water writhing in pain, all my rain blurred vision could see was the movement of a man clad in white vest on the boat and the swinging of a kerosene lamp across his face. Probably he was trying to get hold of it as the shaft of passing winds and streaks of slanting rain was all powered up to reduce it to pieces. I struggled to stand back on my feet with my left hand supporting my ribs and it was then I felt the diary against my chest. Cold and rain soaked. The last I wanted was the rain to have spoiled it beyond recognition.


I tried to scamper as fast as I can to the boat but all I managed was to limp. I stepped onto the boat as I heard the boatman saying, “Sahib, I am not going anywhere. Mausam aur bhi bigarne waala hai….”

He continued with his weather reports as I heard another thunderous roar with a flash of lightning gleaming off the river surface. I comforted myself beneath the shed on the boat and flipped open the diary. In the flickering dim light of the kerosene lamp kept on the edge of the bench I tried to examine it with my hands constantly swiping away the rain water lingering on its pages. I went down on my knees and crawled closer to the lamp to get a better view. The constant swaying of the boat to the crashing of waves by its sides that seems energized by nature’s tantrum made my skin erupt into tiny goose bumps of fear. Sitting by the lamp as the pale yellow light illuminated its pages and I could see the inked emotions wet by rain yet readable, a tremor of peace conquered my heart. I feel a panic drown within me. I sat unmoved, exhaling heavily to calm my desperation as I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the boatman himself.

I looked up only to see half of his face lit by the demure glow of the lamp. He was an old man. His sullen cheeks has the flesh clinging to its bones like the last leaf on the branches of a weathered tree. His thin hands dangling from his drooping shoulder makes me wonder how he can row this boat against the strong current of the river. He teamed his worn out vest with a dhoti that was stained with clay. In all he represented a person stuck in a land of calamity for years. Dead, yet alive.

Sahib, where do you think you are going in this heavy rain?” His breath had the smell of freshly chewed beetle.
“Will you make me cross this river?” I said with a plea in my voice.

He turned to the lamp and tuned its knob a bit. The flame was now elongated and emitting more light. I can see him prominently. The darkness did misguide me. He was older than I had presumed, “But we can’t row in this weather. May be we have to wait till the rain stops.”

“I will pay you double. Please…” I was down to being an immoral human.

“Sahib, Zindegi ko paiso se nahi kharid sakte….” He replied and holding to the ends of his dirt smeared dhoti sat down with a lot of reluctance. “Aap nahi samjhoge”

My eyes rested on his trifle shadow casted on the sides of the hut that shook as and when a wave lashed against the boat. The sound of the rain on the water surface somewhere died out in my ears with his words, “Aap nahi samjhoge’. Was I really an immoral person? May be…
I was about to get up as he spoke once again.

“Sit down. Don’t go. The weather is horrific outside.” He paused as another sound of thunder rocked the early night sky. “I will take you across Sahib…” he said as I kept looking at him in utter bewilderment.

He stood up and left the hut, slowly walking across to the end of the boat. My eyes followed him but soon he was hid in the heavy downpour of rain. A part of me was happy as my requirement was being met. While I was disturbed over the fact that I am risking the life of a person just for my concern. I was not just being a selfish person. I was much like a selfish killer at that moment. The violence of nature may rate this trip as the boatman’s last ever and I will be the one responsible for it.

Before I could have registered myself to change my mind I saw the shore gradually recede into the darkness with the boat spinning to the current of the water. I stood with the lamp in my hand and took few steps ahead to see the boatman struggling to guide the boat. The oar almost slipping out of his tired hands to the gust of wind as swords of rain mercilessly strike against the fragile armour of his bare chest.

Chacha…come inside…” I screamed. He signalled me to wait.

A minute passed and I couldn’t see the shore anymore. The guilt of me as a selfish killer in me was thriving to be corrected but it was all too late. I wish I wouldn’t have been so ardent. At that moment I only wished to see a shore again in this lifetime. Every crack of thunder unloaded an ocean of rain onto the earth in the form of torrents. The boat kept gliding to Chacha’s brave fight as I patiently waited for the boat to touch a shore.
Moments later I found Chacha walk up to the edge of the hut and sit. Despite the boisterous rain I could still hear his strenuous breaths. He was dripping wet and his thin tired arms craved for rest but he kept pulling the oar against the current of the water and the boat kept moving ahead. 
All of a sudden I found him leave the oar and sit numb. As soon as the oar was lifted off the water the boat spun on it like a drunkard dancing to groovy music. The current of the water accompanied by the strong shafts of wind made it toss like a child playing with his toys. I could feel the panic in my nerves. Cold sweat had started to drench my eye brows. Every time the boat tilted sideways I could feel my heart pound in my throat.
Chacha what happened?” I shrieked. Nausea was overpowering me. Few more tilting and spinning and I shall throw up my guts.
I didn’t get an answer in return. All I saw was Chacha engaged in some prayer with his joined hands shivering at his chest. A minute or so passed and I found that the boat had stopped spinning and Chacha was back to work, to his tireless rowing. I thanked my stars.
Chacha what were you doing??”
“Ap nahi samjhoge Sahib” He replied to me and in that silvery spark of lighting I thought I saw tears in his eyes.
Chacha please tell. I will try my best to understand” I requested.
Pulling up his wet dhoti to his knees that stuck to his skin, he begun.

****
1990 – The spring of sorrows

When God is the opponent in your game all you can do is to sit and enjoy getting defeated in style. 
It was in the morning of spring some twelve years ago that I lost my family. My beloved wife Neelam and the Noor of my eyes, my daughter Renu. Renu’s board exams were over and so I thought of sending them to my in-laws place in the town. As I arrived with my boat and they got onto it, I found that there were far too many people on the bank waiting to travel to the town on the other side of the river. I told them that I won't be serving the public today as I have to take my family along. But no one paid any heed to my plea. They all got into the boat making it clear that I am paid to work and so I should to be ready to work whenever they want. I didn't had much to say. Actually I had a lot to say but I did not had anyone to listen. My boat was loaded beyond capacity. We had sailed half way into the river that the rear part of my boat cracked and in no time water gushed in to touch its brim. The boat was upturned and people were drowning. I jumped into the water as well to save my wife and daughter and just then the anchor of the boat collided against my eyes. I couldn't see anything anymore, all I felt was a stream of liquid being flushed out of my eyes. By the smell on my face I guessed it was blood.

By the time I managed to swim to the bank I found myself all alone and with a few other people who survived. But those few people did not comprise of Neelam and Renu. I lost my love and the Noor of my eyes too…forever. Since then whenever I cross this river I spend a minute praying for the good of their soul.
I wish those people would have understood me
Khair…ap v toh unhi logo me se ek ho….aur aap v shayad mere dard ko nahi samaj payenge Sahib….

****
The present again -

In the meantime my teary eyes spotted the electric lamps of the town from between the leaves of the Neem trees occupying the banks of the river. We were nearing the shore. I took hold of my diary and wiping my wet eye lids, I stood up. I was stunned to see Chacha without having his vision anchor the boat with utmost perfection. Perhaps this evening I had encountered God’s own disciple.

I got off the boat and turned towards him, “Chacha, I wish Allah remain with you in every sphere of your upcoming life. Khuda hafiz!”
He forecasted a feeble smile. I stretched my hand towards him with a hundred rupee note tucked in my fingers.
Rehne do Sahib….phir kavi....” he replied as his lean hands slowly lifted the anchor off the shore and the boat started to drift away.
****
The rain had stopped but the flash of lighting up in the black night sky kept lighting my way towards a deserted building that once upon a time used to my school. I recollect her words.

“Happy one year of togetherness Rehan. Promise me you will never quit writing and every year on the day we first met you will gift me your diary.” She spoke as her thumb kept caressing my fingers on her soft palm.

“I promise dear…” I replied and kissed her forehead. She rested her head on my chest and we stood there in each other’s arms on the bank of the river insulated by the coldness of the morning breeze and the serene chirping of birds that echoed through the cobalt blue sky.
Spring never appeared so beautiful to me…

“Okay. Mom will be here anytime. You better go now. See you as the school reopens. I will spend the vacation at my mom’s place with my granny. You take care of yourself. Love you a lot…” she whispered in my ears.
“Love you too. Take care….” I whispered back and started to walk away.

A loud crack of thunder brought me back to my reality as I found myself standing before the deserted school building of mine. I managed to locate my class and walking past a series of broken and dusty benches I stopped before the one that once was the place where we sat and talked our heart out.

Every year I come at this place to keep the diary I have written throughout the year and this year was no exception.
I kept the diary on the bench saying “Happy twelfth anniversary Renu. Rehan misses you a lot.” and slowly walked out of the place.
Interestingly I never find any diary at this place every year I return to keep a new one…

Chacha was right. I can never understand his pain. Mai unke dard ko isliye nahi samaj sakta tha…kyuki sayad mai har pal us dard ko mehsoos karke jee raha tha……

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