[Meaning of few Bengali words used in this story: Dadu means grandfather; namaskar: salutation; Vedas: Holy books for Hindus, there are four Vedas]
“Gentleman, you have taken my seat”.
A young man of around 25 raised his head. He was reading a book in the two tier compartment of the train, saw an old man in his 70s, holding the ticket and looking at him. The man has kept his luggage on the floor and his hand bag on the seat.
“The lower berth is mine and the window seat is for the passenger who has the lower berth”, reasoned the old man.
“I apologize, it is my mistake”, the young man was about to shift to the next seat.
This young man got into the train about five minutes before the old man got in. This is the off season; few seats are unoccupied. This train starts in the night and reaches Howrah the day after in the early morning. Because of longer duration of the journey, this train is not liked by many passengers.
“You can sit there if you like. I see you are reading a book. Probably the window seat will be better for you. You can make use of the folding table at the side”, the old man suggested.
“Thank you sir”, the young man replied. He started thinking what kind of a person this man is. If he is not so particular about the window seat then why did he claim it and then gave up his claim immediately after.
The old man pushed his luggage on the floor below the seat and kept his hand bag on the birth. He sat next to the young man.
“I am Bimol Roy” the old man introduced himself.
“I am Binoy Mukherjee, Sir”, the young man introduced himself with a namaskar. He practiced the habit of using “sir” to maintain some distance from strangers.
“My grandchildren are of your age, you can call me Dadu”, Mr. Roy suggested.
“What rubbish, is he insane, how can he ever imagine that some stranger will call him Dadu just because he has grandchildren of his age”, Binoy thought but he did not say anything.
Binoy never had his own grandparents from either side; they had left before he came.
But he tasted these Dadus on couple of occasions, and tastes were never palatable.
His best friend had a Dadu. Whenever he used to go to his friend’s house he had to meet him once. It was the custom of their house and his friend requested him not to violate that rule ever.
His friend’s Dadu always used to grab Binoy’s elbow tightly during the entire conversation. His elbow used to pain after sometime. And after every one or two minutes, he used to shake his elbow and ask his opinion. His friend also cautioned him not to contradict his Dadu on anything, whatever, but to acknowledge always by saying ‘agreed’ on everything for which his opinion would be asked.
But one day his Dadu was explaining to Binoy that women education is a luxury and is an idea of English people, which is no good. Women, according to his Dadu, should get married at a very early age and should be reared in the in-laws house as recommended in the Vedas. Binoy heard about the books called Vedas but did not know what is written there. But he was brought up with such a value that he could not tolerate this kind of idea.
So he was so upset, he completely forgot his friend’s advice and protested right on the face. But he did not know what consequences were waiting for him. He started scolding him using very harsh words. He even told that Binoy’s parent’s had not teach him good manners. He started shouting at him. His uncle and aunt came running and rescued Binoy from him.
But eventually that was a kind of blessing in disguise for Binoy. Afterwards, whenever he visited his friend’s house, his Dadu did not show any interest in talking to him.
There was another Dadu, who again was his friend’s Dadu; another friend. This Dadu had one or two Sanskrit degrees. He had a similar habit. He used to grab Binoy’s left arm with his left hand while talking. Binoy’s left hand used to pain after sometime. He was also a close talker, used to talk while keeping his mouth very close to his listener’s and spray of saliva used to come out uninterruptedly during the entire discourse which never lasted less than 15 to 20 minutes. He was of the opinion that every other language should be banned starting with English. There should be only one language and that should be Sanskrit. “A complete nut case” Binoy used to think about him.
Binoy was very happy that he never had his own Dadu. “Living with these kinds of nuts under one roof would have been a living hell”, he thought.
“Have some tea”, Mr. Roy woke Binoy up. It was already morning and everyone was up and having their breakfasts.
“Thank you”, he suddenly realized that he was very hungry. The night before he could not have any meal. He thought he would order some dinner in the train but realized that at night they do not serve any food. They expect people to have dinner before boarding the train. He was deeply pleased to see hot tea and some hot samosas for breakfast.
“Please let me pay, sir”, Binoy suggested.
“I paid. You had been sleeping at that time. I had to wake you up or else the breakfast would have got cold”, Mr. Roy said.
“Then please let me pay my share, sir”, Binoy requested.
“Tell you what, you pay next time”, Mr. Roy suggested.
While having tea Mr. Roy was looking at his family picture album. He showed Binoy the picture of a very young girl, in her 20s.
“This is my granddaughter”, Mr. Roy said.
“He has a granddaughter who is unmarried, is this the reason for this hospitality, one should be careful of these Dadu type of people, they always have some ulterior motives” Binoy started thinking. All his past bad memories about Dadus started resurrecting into his mind.
“She is doing research in Bangalore, I am going back after seeing her”, Mr. Roy told.
“In Indian Institute of Science”, Binoy asked.
“Yes, yes, that is the name”, Mr. Roy confirmed.
“She recently got engaged, the boy is doing research there; only two years older than her. His parents live in Calcutta. My granddaughter first told me about him. I met his parents. There is acceptance from both sides”, Mr. Roy told.
“Probably being too paranoid is not good”, Binoy thought.
“I have only one granddaughter, rest all are grandsons. Once in two to three months I go and visit her. She cannot come too often to visit us. ”
“Where will you get down”, Mr. Roy asked.
“At the last stop, sir”, Binoy replied.
“That means one stop after mine”, Mr. Roy said.
“Who do you have in your family”, Mr. Roy asked.
“Father and brothers”, Binoy replied.
“At what age of yours you lost your mother”, he asked.
“Fifteen”, he replied.
“I wish I lost my mother earlier”, his face looked very different when he said this.
Binoy looked at this face; he remained silent for a while. Then Mr. Roy started walking down the memory lane.
“It was 1947, in one day thousands and thousands of us lost everything we had and many lost their lives also. The scale of devastation was unimaginable. I was only 18, the oldest among two brothers and one sister. The whole family ran for lives. Our destination was the border even though it was few hundred miles away. In between we had to hide in many places, sometimes in banana plantation, sometimes in rice fields, sometimes in small canals. There were thousands and thousands of us. It was a run for life. We did not know the exact direction, it was just following the crowd hoping that at least someone knows. In the crowd suddenly I realized my father and my youngest brother was missing. My mother was holding my sister’s hand and I was holding my mother’s. My father was holding my brother’s hand. We were trying to keep eye on each other all the time, but sometimes due to crowd we were getting out of each other’s vision for a while but again were able to see each other after a while. It was going on like this for a while. So when I could not see them for a while I did not panic. I thought since we are all going in the same direction, we will meet soon. I was shouting all the time by my brother’s name. Then suddenly we were attacked by a mob. They were having sharp weapons. Even though we were much larger in number but we had many women and children with us, so our intention was not to fight but to protect our women and children. And they knew exactly what our weakness was.”
“To save ourselves from the mob we ran wherever we could to find some places to hide and thus we again got separated. We were trying to hide wherever possible. “
“Finally when we realized that we are out of danger, it was almost dark. We started coming out from our hiding. We again started to regroup. But the size was much smaller this time. It could be because many were killed and many of us were hiding in so faraway places from each other that when we regrouped in the dim light of early evening, we could not see anything clearly beyond a certain distance. We were afraid of shouting by names this time for the fear of drawing their attention and being attacked again. We realized that we have to cross the border as soon as possible. But this time we became careful. We made a plan, asked all the women to remove all the sign by which they can be identified. Married women were asked to remove their white bangles and red sindoor. Few women were asked to spread some mud on their faces. My mother removed her sindoor and removed her pair of white bangles out by pulling them. But she could never wear those bangles again in her life.”
“After few days of journey we reached Bongram. It was neither a welcome nor an unwelcome for us.”
“I started inquiring about my missing father and brother. Since we did not have any photograph of any one of them, I registered their names and waited for some information to reach. I inquired regularly but received no information. “
“After few years, when I was actively involved in whole sale vegetable distribution business, I came across a gentleman, who was also on the run on that day with his family, but I never remember seeing him then, he saw some people got killed by the mob. He gave me description of some of those people and two of them matched with that of my father and my brother. But there was no way I could verify.”
“I am sorry to interrupt”, Binoy suddenly told, “but you said, you wanted your mother to die. I do not know if any son can ever think like that.”
“Did I say that”, Mr. Roy said, “probably what I wanted to say is that it was difficult for me to see my mother’s suffering anymore.”
“After years of hard work I could change the fortune. But I could never see any happiness in my mother’s face any more. One night I suddenly woke up and heard faint sound of a crying woman, as if coming from a great distance. I looked into the room where my mother and sister were sleeping. Even in the darkness I realized my mother is not beside my sister in the bed. What could happen to her, I wondered.”
“I saw a dark figure sitting in the veranda, covering the face with some cloth and crying. There is no word which can describe that; even the cruelest person in the world will be moved by it. I could not go near my mother and hold her. I knew that wouldn’t help.”
“Next night I woke up hearing the same crying sound. She used to cover her face with cloth to block the sound so that others are not disturbed.”
“Both me and my sister started realizing one thing soon. Whenever my mother used to see any man walking holding the hand of a son, she used to start staring at them. She used to come running to the veranda so that she can watch the disappearing figures till they go completely out of her vision.”
“That was the initial symptom of her losing mental balance.”
“Whole day I remained busy in my vegetable dealership business. My sister used to look after my mother. She also started going to school” Mr. Roy said.
“You could not get a job anywhere” Binoy asked.
“No I did not finish my high school”, Mr. Roy replied.
“But you said you were 18, when you left East Pakistan”, Binoy was curious.
“Yes but I, like most others during our time started going to school at late age. Children used to start their education at the age of 8, 9 or even 10. There was no pressure. Children were not even punished for not paying enough attention to their studies, which one cannot imagine these days. ”, Mr. Roy explained. “I was in the final year of my school when I left East Pakistan.”
“After few years, I found a match for my sister. The family of the boy had suffered like us during the partition.”
“During this time my mother became completely incapable of interacting socially. She was doing her household chores like a machine, and always looked blank. Every night she used to get up from the bed and started crying. So she was given sleeping pills.”
“Soon I realized that she should be monitored all the time. So I got married with a girl from a similar family who crossed the border during the partition.”
“My wife started looking after her. By this time she lost her mental balance even more. My mother used to run away from the house the moment she found any man who looked like my father, when he was last seen during the partition or any father and a son walking together. Many-a-times she used to stop them and looked at their faces very closely creating embarrassment for them and for my wife. But my wife never complained about it nor she ever used any harsh word on my mother.”
“I can tell you one thing, Binoy, a woman can give up everything she has just for her husband”, Mr. Roy continued.
“I do not understand what you mean by everything”, Binoy was curious. Binoy was also surprised that Mr. Roy could remember his name. He told his name only once, the previous night. Nobody, he has seen so far, can remember the name of a stranger for so long.
“I mean there is nothing more important for a woman than her husband “, explained Mr. Roy.
“What is more important for a woman, her husband or her child”, Binoy asked. He was quiet sure that the answer will be “child”.
“Both”, answered Mr. Roy, “but if she has to choose only one, she will choose her husband.”
Binoy completely lost his words by then, looked straight into the eyes of Mr. Roy. It was very disturbing for him, he could not think anything for a while.
“That could be because if she has a husband she can have a child again”, finally he got back his reasoning power.
“It does not work by such calculation, she will not even think so far. It will be an instantaneous decision for her, which would not change even if she is given one year time to think”, Mr. Roy explained.
“My mother remained like this for two more years, only her condition was getting worse. Then suddenly she died of brain stroke” Mr. Roy told.
A strange silence prevailed. It seemed that the train had stopped, people had stopped breathing; there was no motion anywhere. Binoy did not realize how long that lasted.
“How your mother died, Binoy”, finally Mr. Roy broke the silence.
Binoy remained silent, again the strange silence returned into the compartment.
Nobody realized how long that silence lasted. It was broken by the food vendor, who came to sell lunch plates.
“Dadu I will pay for your lunch this time”, Binoy begged him. Realizing that he called him the way Mr. Roy asked him to call.
He saw a smile in Mr. Roy’s face.
It suddenly occurred to him that every child is beautiful.
Nobody has seen a single child who is not beautiful. Even a cruel person hesitates to harm a child, who is always vulnerable, because of this attribute with which he/she is born. The beauty of a child helps to protect the child; it acts as a shield, a kind of defense mechanism.
Only very few of those beautiful children will be able to cross all the check points of life during their journey by never compromising on values, integrity, duty, honesty, sincerity and eventually will be rewarded in such a way that seeing them it can be said “unless one is old, one is not beautiful”.
Next day morning Mr. Roy woke Binoy up.
“I will get down here, I wanted to say good bye to you”, Mr. Roy told.
“Can you please note down my address and phone number. It is only one hour by local train from Howrah. You do not need to really call me before you come. Anybody in my family will receive you gladly in my house, even if I am out of station”, Mr. Roy explained.
Binoy noted down the address.
Mr. Roy opened his wallet and gave Binoy a hundred rupee note.
“Why are you giving me money”, Binoy asked.
“This is a gift from a grandfather to his grandson. Spend this money on whatever you like.” Mr. Roy explained.
“But 100 rupees is a lot of money, if you want to give me some money give me 10 or 20 rupees”, Binoy tried to be reasonable.
“If I can give you hundred why shall I give you anything less”, Mr. Roy told.
Binoy could not speak anything after that.
Soon the train reached the station. It was still dark, but there was a clear sign in the horizon that it is going to be light soon. The platform came on the right hand side. Soon two boys jumped into the compartment, they were his two grandsons. The train stops very briefly at this station, so the introduction was very brief. Mr. Roy got down from the train; his grandchildren were following him carrying his luggage. Binoy walked behind them.
Only few people got down at the station. Most of the passengers were asleep. Binoy came down into the platform. But he got back immediately because there was a signal that the train was about to move. He stood at the door looking at Mr. Roy. People who came to receive him asked him to start. With the gesture of his hand he asked them to wait. Binoy was able to see them in the light falling on them from a lamp post. Binoy and Mr. Roy kept looking at each other till the train took a left turn and they went out of each other’s sight.
Binoy again looked outside; there was no darkness; though the light was nascent.
Author: Mintu Ghoshal
Follow him on facebook: mintu.ghoshal.9