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Monday, 7 April 2014

A FATEFUL MEMOIR by Sobhan Pramanik Part 4

(Based on incidents post Indira Gandhi’s assassination)

Sobhan Pramanik

Part 4

Wiping his face with the back of his palm, he jumped from the branches. It was late noon and the sun, a brighter orange shone low in the western sky where tailed colorful kites made merry to the tune of the breeze. Glints of the orange light caught in the ripples of the lake ahead.

The militants have left the place, says the broad marks of tyre on the loose soil disappearing towards the main road from the truck that was brought to carry away the burnt remnants of the Gurdwara. The echo of the winds blowing across the plain ring in the trees. Their leaves chattering against the shrill chants of the birds inhabiting them. Mehran looking frantically through the braches crisscrossing above his head, whistles again. The notes of which made quite a few birds emerge from behind the foliage and flapping their wings, flew high into the sky. But none amongst the flapping flock was his parrot, Cheeru. Clueless of where it went, he hurried towards the sides of the lake. Peeking from his eyes was a sense of panic.

Looking across the village by the lake, flanked on either sides of the dusty road along which he lovingly saw the girl along with his mother stroll back, were mud houses. On their slanted roofs grew large pumpkins and the walls strangled with creepers unknown. Their tendrils hanging in fresh green spirals, support violet flowers. From behind a series of house with sunken roofs, rose thin lines of colorless smoke that quickly disappeared in the air. The broken road then bent towards the left from a patch of yellowed grass on its sides and disappeared behind yet another series of huts.

The quack of ducklings tailing their mother over the still lake and the mysterious bend of the road from the yellow grass had something in it that Mehran decided to visit the village in search of his parrot. 
Taking the roads to the village sounded a task for patience for him. For the panic that was raging in him, he decided to swim across the lake.  


Cold wind dashing against his wet body let his skin break into spikes of goosebumps as he walked the narrow road into the village. With the sun hung low in the horizon behind, his shadow ahead was nothing more than an elongated darkness with limbs merged. The gravels alongside tossing and twisting below his hurried march.
Nearing the bend of the road he whistled again hoping to hear Cheeru’s squawk or spot the green of her scales flying in from amid the orange sky, but nothing of that sort happened and only a darker shade of glum then descended across his face. Looking over the huts through the pumpkin creepers he found the white smokes still rising from behind the walls. The curls of it gradually uncurling to the breeze.

Walking a few more steps he stood on the yellowed patch of grass from where the road took left and just ahead of the hut liberating the white smoke. Standing closer to the hut, Mehran literally smelled the smoke. It was a known smell. It was the smell of gram seeds being tossed over the flames. He whistles again and waited. Just when he curled his lips for yet another whistle, he heard Cheeru’s squawk. A faint one from behind those mud walls he stood ahead of. From the hut that evoked thin white lines of smoke. 
Mehran attempted to climb the sun dried walls. He couldn’t make any grip on them and struggled to set his feet. With his palms firmly curled against the topmost rise of the walls, he fought to pull himself up. His knees brushing hard against the wall caught brown stains of soil on his pale white trousers. Finally placing a broken brick beneath the press of his toes, he pulled himself up and with his chin against the top of the wall, he was happy to see Cheeru.

He hunched himself on the edge and kissing the Tabeez across his neck, exhaled in relief. In one corner of the hut’s courtyard was a bald man dragging a razor atop the head of a small boy. With every drag fell onto the feet, chunks of the boy’s dark long hair. The man switches between spraying water and dragging the razor. 
A little ahead was a woman sitting behind a chulha on which was kept a broad container. Her left hand, the skin of which appears dark, fans at the flames beneath. Far across, against the sagging walls were laundry lines on which dried clothes fluttered in the wind and just below was Cheeru, pecking at gram seeds spread on a sheet on the ground.
Mehran then whistles and with it, he caught the people’s attention.
“Hey boy! What are you doing there?” she paused with her dark hands making airy gestures. “Chor…chor….” Started the boy who was getting his head shaved.

The man then stopped with the razor and folding up his dhoti up to his knees shouted, “Chori karta hai. Nalayak!”  Period. “One slap will make all your teeth fall out. You son of an owl.” He ended displaying his cracked palm.

“I am not a thief” Mehran stammered against the fright of the bald man. Just the sight of his weary palm and he could not feel his jaws anymore. “I came for my parrot” He declared pointing towards Cheeru who happily munched on gram seeds spread out on the sheet.

“No he is thief. Beat him…” Interrupted the young boy who sat on the chair with water dripping from his half shaved head. Mehran made a face at him in reply.

This time when the woman dashed towards Cheeru in a hurry trying to shoo her away, Mehran remembered her dark hands. She was the one whom he had seen from behind the braches of neem. The one who came with the girl to teach him a lesson for breaking her pitcher. He affirmed himself as the woman to be the girl’s mother. Her hands dark, probably because of fanning at the flames for long hours as she baked the seeds.
He could feel waves of excitement dash against his shy shores. He smiled to himself at the remembrance of her wet feet and her swinging braids.

“Youuu??” Said a familiar voice from the foot of the walls. She has just moved out from the hut and stood glaring at Mehran on the walls. In her clasp were packets of gram seeds.
“What happened beti?” Her mother exclaimed shooing Cheeru.    
“Maa….this is the boy who broke our pitcher.”

“I told he is thief…” Once again pitched in the boy. This made Mehran aware that either he is mad or doesn’t know the meaning of thief. The latter being the more probable one.

Darkness had just started to set in that Cheeru came flapping to perch on his shoulder. The sun has long plunged in the far west. The winds blowing over the lake turning colder and stronger as the tree tops bend to its current.    
“Beti you go in and finish the packing. Tomorrow you have to deliver it to the market in the city. We will see this jerk…” Said her mother as she walked inside. The jingling of her anklets ring in the cold air.

“Today I will teach you a lesson…” she marched towards the gate in anger as the man, pulling up his dhoti, followed her.

Mehran by then had jumped off the walls. His legs in a run, thump hard against the ground. He could hear their cursing from half way down the dusty road. The high pitched yelping had made people come out of their houses on to the dark road. Dangling down their hands, meekly glowing kerosene lamps.  

He looks back only to find the bald man chasing him madly. His dhoti billowing and fingers tightened against a rock. The last Mehran wants is the village to chase him as a thief in this darkness. He gasps of air, breathing heavily from his mouth. His cotton shirt sticking to his back in the perspiration as Cheeru flaps on his shoulder against the hurry.

A rock from behind landed striking on his heels and that hurried him even further. The man had just reached the lake chasing Mehran that he heard a splash of water and a bird flapping. Locating nothing in the darkness, they ultimately had to give up the chase.

Mehran swam across the lake as Cheeru flew overhead.

That night he kept himself awake, tossing in the bed, recollecting images of her angrily looking at him. Her wavy eyes and braided hair in the light of sundown hovered in his head as Mehran makes up his mind to catch up with her the next day on her way to the city market to deliver the gram seeds…

To be continued...

Authored by - Sobhan Pramanik   

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