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Monday, 14 April 2014

A FATEFUL MEMOIR by Sobhan Pramanik Part 5

(Based on incidents post Indira Gandhi’s assassination)

Sobhan Pramanik

Part 5

Daylight, a faint shade of yellow streamed through the crack of the window to scatter on the floor. The buttermilk sky faintly visible behind the draping of the curtain, gently flutters along the frames. Outside, singing in chorus in the trees were herds of sparrows, their scales camouflaged against the bark. At the far end of the courtyard, on blades of high grass growing wild at the foot of the walls, glistened the morning dew. Along the roads that ran parallel to Mehran’s house, were heard the hoofs of buffaloes and the heavy wheels of the carts pulled by them, tumbling over pieces of stones.

Mehran taking the steps down the veranda could foresee her in his mind, somewhere down the streets to the city. He could hear the jingling of her anklets in the wind, the anger in her doe eyes in the rising sun. Cheeru listening to his footsteps over the walk in the courtyard, squawked in acknowledgement. She was in her cage, swinging over a metal wire as Mehran fills up her drinking bowl.

That morning he was happy to see his mother healing. She stood by the walk in the courtyard watering the rose bushes. The burns on her forehead and chin hidden behind the veil of the burqa as she sprinkles water from the pitcher. Fresh pink buds greet the sunshine as the flowers ooze a sweet fragrance along with the smell of the wet earth that predominantly hangs in the air. The onset of winter could be felt in the brush of the dry winds that blew across the plain and the descent of thick white mist in the far west, along the slopes of Aravali.  Their peaks amid the floating clouds as the sky seem to vanish behind those age old mountains.

It was when Baba took to the shop after having fed the goats and his mother retired to flame the chulha for the lunch that he stepped out of the house. With Cheeru on his left shoulder, he took long strides along the narrow roads of the village cutting through huts with sagging roofs and walls slapped with dung.

The sun in the eastern sky has climbed quite a bit and its rays beaming through the curtain of mist along the slopes of Aravali that Mehran reached the road connecting Kishangarh with the city. He then sat under the shade of a pomegranate tree and frantically looked up and down the roads hoping to see her. Along the city roads were vehicles hurrying past and at distances stood armed forces to prevent any further massacre. Thousands of Sikhs were reported to have taken shelter in police barracks to escape the assault. A month had passed since that fateful event but still now reports of killing, inevitably made way to news headlines.

Having waited for long, he stood up and started to make a hurried walk by the road. Perspiration in beads roll down from the sides of his face. His disheveled hair flutter in the wind. It was when he had walked quite a distance back into the village that he caught sight of her. In a cautious walk she was approaching Mehran with the turn of the road. On her hips was a trug filled with packets of baked gram seeds that bounce every time her bare feet tramples over a pebble. The scarf of her dress partly pulled over her head against the sun and on her lips is the humming of lullaby. Braids of her hair bounce on her droopy shoulders as the wind blowing in her face tend to push back the scarf. Behind was the sun lit sky stretching endlessly over the calm village of Kishangarh. 
Mehran standing up from the sides of the road, marched towards her. With Cheeru squawking on his shoulder she took his notice. She pauses. The lullaby ceased. Their silhouettes merged into one on the ground and all that tinkled in the blowing of the wind was her anklets, as she shifts her bare feet on the heated earth.

“Can I have some gram seeds?” Mehran asked smiling at her.

“They are for the city market” PERIOD “Please get out of my way…”

“What if I not?” He chuckled. “You will call you mother again? But this time I am not running away…”

“What do you mean?” She reciprocated shifting the trug on the elevation of her hip.

“There’s something about you that brings me your way, every single time…” He looks down upon the dusty road. Upon her feet that stings to the sun’s scorch.

“In the dark papa’s stone missed your head the other day. Else you wouldn’t have been able to come back a single time. Now leave my way.” She shrugged and walked over to a patch of grass to avoid the stinging soil.

“There’s something about your doe eyes that makes me imagine the sky pour even when it is this scorching. You are the rain to all my summers…and will be my patch of comforting sunshine in the shivering cold.” Mehran rambled in a trance. His lost gaze painting images of ecstasy in the canvas of her vision.

“Ever since you broke the pitcher I was wondering whether you are crazy. Today you just confirmed…” She replied almost instantly, hardly paying attention to all Mehran has to say. The wind now howling in the foliage of the pomegranate tree.

“There’s something about the jingling of your anklets which made it my favorite music, ever since I saw you…” He followed her at heels against her desperate attempt to walk away faster. Strong wind was splitting the clouds in the blue sky above. Cheeru made flapping sounds on his shoulder but didn’t fly to the trees. Sounds of vehicles speeding along the city highway fading in their ears as Mehran bravely confronted the emotional battle.

“If not anything…can you please come to the lake every day to fill water?  I won’t break your pitcher, I promise.” He pleaded.

“To play skipping stones with you?” She smiled. It was these little display of emotions that Mehran has been so addicted to. Like the flower that brings a bee back every time it opens, she, for Mehran was the flower and her display of emotions, the nectar. Something that can make the bee in Mehran, live gracefully for days to come.

“I wouldn’t mind playing with you. But seeing you every day at the lake, hunched by the sides with your thin hands dipping into the waters to fill the pitcher, the billowing of your lehenga and the glide of your wet ankles over the broken roads as you retort to the village…are such images I would live tirelessly, again and again”

“You lived in me as an image for all these days. But what’s the name of this image?” He continued.

Only a sudden roar of voices could be heard in response. Far behind, in the haze of dust hovering high over the streets, was seen a group of men in a chase. Thumbing of their feet, like the gallop of horses, distinct in the calm afternoon. With the bend of the road, Mehran could get a clear vision. The chasing men seem to have bamboos stashed in their grip. One of the few even carries an axe. They run like insane. Slurry shouts and hurried breathing, seem to intensify every second. Pieces of rocks flying down the streets comes to settle at their feet.

It was when she screamed for mercy that Mehran knew what they issue had been. Staggering ahead of the fierce mob was the bald man he saw at her house the other day. The corner of his lips leaking blood that dilutes with the sweat on his face and hurry down his neck. Beside him was the woman, the one who baked the seeds. She looks to faint soon. Her head falling back on her shoulders as the man pulls at her arm constantly to keep up the pace. It was soon she collapsed onto the ground…and the insane crowd mercilessly went over her.

“Maaaaa….” She screamed and ran towards her. The trug on her hips fell onto the ground, scattering the packets of gram seeds. Cheeru frightened by the circumstances flew from his shoulder onto the pomegranate tree. It was when Mehran could figure a thing in his head that she had went running a long way.

“Don’t come near beti. Run….” Screamed the old man as a thick bamboo comes down hard on his back. It threw him off the road, rolling over pebbles onto a patch of grass. The ransack then triggered the attention of the forces standing far along the highway. They startup their jeeps and head towards this direction.

Mehran hurried himself to pull her away from the massacre. But she was fast. She had already lowered herself on the ground to help her father as the crowd stops around them. Through their legs behind, I catch glimpse of her mother lying by the road. A stream of blood from the back of her skull losing way on the barren earth. Pairs of shoes lying over her for the stampede she underwent. Her hairs, freed from the bun lies smeared in mud. I concentrate on her wounded face. Her jaws dropped, perhaps trying to inhale, I wondered. But then her jaws never retorted. She wasn’t inhaling…she just exhaled her last. The blood gradually pooling around her lifeless body.

Mehran ran towards the gathering with a sense of fear impending high. Pushing through a few he caught sight of her crying, her arms begging for plea and alternately beating on her chests. On the ground lies her father as she tries to embrace him around his waist. Two of the people kick his ribs hard, he moans in pain. Agony trickled from his eyes as he blinked. With every tear, her begging for her father’s life intensifying. She thumps her chest hard, spittle bubbling on her lips as she shouts for forgiveness. 

The jeeps carrying army men have just hit the village roads. The roar of their engines, shooing birds from the trees. Mehran caught hold of her hand and started to pull away. But she is rooted. She doesn’t want to leave her father. People hastily talk about how they have raided their house and discovered pictures of Sikh gods adorning the walls. In his mind he recollects the images of that evening when he had went to their house searching for Cheeru. He remembers the man shaving his son’s head and then he knew it all.  It was this rampant that had forced them to shed their religious features for the sake of life. And today at this moment, even after everything, life was literally at stake.
“Hurry up. The army men are nearing. The traitors shouldn’t be spared…” Someone declared from the accumulation as others join him in his decision of not sparing them. They throng their calloused hands in the air in support.  

With the man’s limbs pinned down, his legs throwing in the air, a boudlerstone was then attempted to be dropped over his head. The target was missed. It brushed the side of his face sending fragments of broken incisors back into his mouth as a wave a blood covered his face. He was still very much desperate in pulling her away. His hands locked against her hips as she laments in a yelp. Her fingers linger along his dad’s chest that rise and shrink to a faint breathing.

The jeeps stop with a screech as they open fire at the dispersing crowd. Loud roars resound in the air as the tip of the muzzle shows the departing of thin smoke lines. The dust clouds were yet to be settled and in that haze Mehran felt a stream of warm fluid being splashed on his face. He rubs and re-rubs his face. In the backdrop was the roaring of guns and with the scorching sun above shining radiantly in the clear sky, we were lying in the high bushes along the roads. 

It was when the dust settled that he faced an emotional death. He saw her on the ground and on her back, piercing through her spines was a dagger. On the green grass beneath, accumulated fresh blood in drops. Ahead was the frisking of people towards the village as they were fired upon by the army men.
Unable to move with a bullet in his right thigh, Mehran saw people descend from vehicles and carry her away. Her mother, pressed to the earth lifted onto the same stretcher as the carriage drew away with a fading noise.

30 years later.
January 2014.

Mehran woke up with the smell of blood on his face. Gripping onto his crutch, with a gaited walk, he staggered towards the verandah. Birds sung on the branches on Jamun, his father dropping fodder before the goats and his mother watering the rose bushes. Nothing seemed to have changed till he spotted Cheeru’s cage in one corner. Its grill rusted and worn off, rests on the floor behind the door of baba’s shop. She died a year or so later after that fateful incident. Now Mehran has a pair of white pigeons. They are in a different cage as he drops grains of wheat at them because some spaces in your life can never be filled by a second someone. All you can do is to allocate a new space for that new someone. Cheeru’s space can never be filled by the sparrows. That space in his heart remain occupied by an absence just like the space occupied by someone whom he had seen die in the haze of dust.

He still remembers everything about her. From the first swing of her braids to the smell of the last splash of her blood. All he doesn’t know is her name…or may be after three long decades he has assigned her a name. In his solitude Mehran remembers her with the name, Memory.


Authored by - Sobhan Pramanik

                        Many thanks for taking time to read. Feel free to share your views. 

1 comment:

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