“Ma what is the reason for your sudden sadness” Mr. Sur asked his mother.
“I want to hold a granddaughter in my arms before leaving this world”, the grandmother told with tearful eyes.
“Have faith Ma and God will answer to your prayer, but please do not cry”, Mr. Sur consoled his mother.
It was many-many years ago when the grandmother was a small girl, could be 11 or 12, living at a small village in Mymensingh district of East Bengal, currently Bangladesh, she was married to a very young man who was studying in college. Her husband’s family lived in another village in the same Mymensingh district. The two families, her husband’s as well as her father’s, had some agricultural land but primarily engaged in business. For her marriage, along with other gifts, her father also gave her a custom built wooden chest made from the finest quality wood in which she kept all her personal belongings. Before her marriage she had completed her primary school education. Her husband was the only son of his parents who also had three daughters, all of them were married. In her in-law’s house, during the day she used to play with other children in the neighborhood and occasionally helped her mother-in-law in household chores. Since she had not reached puberty yet she used to sleep with her mother-in-law at night even when her husband returned from hostel to stay at home during college holidays.
About a month after her marriage she went to visit her parents. When she returned, her mother sent with her a brass bowl in which she liked to drink milk and a pair of dolls, a male and a female whom she would get married sometime in future and her mother had given a secret instruction about when to get them married and till they were married her mother instructed her to let the two dolls sleep in two corners of the wooden chest which was sent with her when she had first stepped into her husband’s family.
Soon after the return from her mother’s house, she could feel some changes in the behavior of people in the house; her father-in-law and mother-in-law looked very thoughtful and often found them engaged into serious discussions. He often heard her father-in-law saying, “Few outsiders are trying to misguide some young men in the village. They want to disturb the communal harmony” and her mother-in-law would say, “Everything will become as before” and she folded her hands in obeisance to the tutelary deity as the apotropaic god of aversion. But grandma neither found those discussions interesting nor understood what the real problem was. But situation suddenly deteriorated when the only Brahmin priest in the village was severely beaten with sticks when he was returning home after performing puja at one of his client’s house. The victim suffered lots of internal injuries but did not die immediately. A fear was spread that whoever would try to help the victim would meet the same fate. Because of the threat no transportation could be arranged to take him to a government hospital in the nearest town. The victim was very poor, did not have any agricultural land and lived in a small house with his wife and their three daughters. His only source of income was the money and food grain he received from his clients in whose houses he performed pujas. He was also the priest in the village temple. Her father-in-law ignored the threat and started visiting the victim’s family. He even secretly arranged a doctor’s visit from the nearest town in the darkness of night to provide some medical care but in spite of that the victim died. The death of the priest created insurmountable fear in the community. He was the only Brahmin in the village and every family used to take his guidance for performing all the rituals.
One night, few days after the death of the Brahmin priest the cowshed in her husband’s house was set on fire. Members of their family and members of the neighboring families tried to douse the fire by carrying water from a pond. No cattle life was lost but the shed turned into ashes. Even though there were few eyewitnesses but nobody dared to open his mouth against the perpetrator.
Two days after the cowshed incidence a fire torch was thrown into their house at night. Before the fire could cause much damage it was doused.
It was a Friday noon, few days after the second fire torch throwing incidence, her father-in-law was returning home to have mid-day meal, leaving his business temporarily in charge of a senior assistant. Two of his employees from the same village were also with him who always accompanied him when he came home for lunch at noon and returned home at night after closing the business for the day. He found a sudden change in the behavior of the two men; both were maintaining silence as much as possible. Even after he tried to engage them into conversation their replies were the shortest “ha karta” (yes sir) and “na karta” (no sir). When they were about a kilometer away from his house those two employees suddenly excused themselves saying they had to go for a special Friday prayer. Her father-in-law started walking alone. It was probably not even few minutes after his two companions had left he saw few young men, having their faces covered, each holding a long stick started running towards him. Only people on the road were him and those who were chasing him. Without wasting a moment he started running towards his house with a constant shout ‘save me, save me.’
When he was just a few meters away from his house, his wife heard him shouting and opened the door. Her action was just in time, he had received only one violent strike on his left shoulder before she could close the door promptly, immediately after he had entered into the house.
He did not dare to go out of his house to look after his business again. The family started planning to relocate to West Bengal. Grandma was too young to understand the implications of relocation. To her, her husband’s house was almost the same as her father’s house as the distance between the two houses was only few villages. She was told that the house would be under lock and they would return when the communal tension would subside. It was decided that they would leave all the furniture behind and the only furniture that would be taken with them was her wooden chest. The decision to carry the wooden chest was taken by her father-in-law and she felt ever grateful to him for that.
She looked at the male and the female dolls which she had brought from her mother’s house. According to the instruction given by her mother they were not ready to be married yet. She decided to keep the male doll in her father-in-law’s house, to ‘guard’ the house. She kept the doll on her bed in a sitting posture. “Do not be afraid, you are a boy and boys should always be courageous” she whispered in his ears. “Do not feel sad for the bride”, she continued whispering, “she will be with me and I will bring her back and give her hand to you. When you will feel hungry eat these ‘Batasas’”, she pointed to a bottle full of candies made from brown sugar. Many years later when she first narrated the story to her grandchildren, one of her grandson asked ‘Grandma, did you keep any water with those sweets’ and she replied, ‘oh I totally forgot, we were in such a hurry.’
[to be continued…..]