Navrachana Vidyani Vidyalaya, Vadodara, Gujarat
Rinta Chaudhuri’s story was one of the Top 10 stories of the TeacherTribe Short Story Writing Contest.
I woke up one day and I was exactly where I was meant to be – in my BED!!! No surprises here. Life was seemingly becoming rather monotonous. I had lost the zeal for everyday things - cooking which brought out my creative side, morning walks which calmed my spirit… nothing seemed exciting anymore. Unexcited at the prospect of meeting the kitchen, I heard a sound emanating from beyond the bedroom door. The home was still, the family still nestled under covers. Nothing to arm myself with, I opened the bedroom door and crept silently towards the sound. Whom should I find but Bapi, my dear father, quietly trying to make himself some tea. Relieved, I hugged him and asked him to sit while I brewed tea. Moving to my balcony garden, we enjoyed the steaming teas and biscuits. The peace, the fragrance from my potted blooms and the dew still fresh on the petals became a perfect setting and Bapi started reminiscing about those ‘good old days.’
We travelled to 1945, in erstwhile East Bengal. Bapi was merely three. His zamindari home was huge, central to an estate surrounded by lush fields, cowsheds, hencoops and ponds filled with fat fish. Far away, one could see tall palms fringing the land. A lavish veranda full of bales of rice, bunches of elaichi bananas, corn hanging from the rafters, rattan stools, a swing, hens, and goats, wrapped the entire house like a warm cloak.
Bapi, the youngest of the Sarkar children, was pampered and home-schooled. He had a pup, Kalu. Black with four white socks, Kalu was a bundle of cute, naughty tricks. Bapi took care of it, feeding it tasty morsels from the kitchen. Soon, other farm animals became add-ons - a lamb-Montu, a parrot-Tia and a calf-Golu. The entire retinue followed Bapi everywhere.
One day, Kalu stopped eating. Upset, Bapi asked Maharajji for some soft meat, hopeful that the smell of meat would ignite hunger pangs. He looked for Kalu and found him sleeping under the veranda swing. Montu and Golu too, were around. Smelling the meat, Kalu slowly looked up. Eyes mischievously twinkling, Bapi threw the meat into the air. Kalu jumped to catch it, but instead of landing on his paws, he landed on Montu who yelped and kicked out at Golu. Golu ran towards the pond, Montu gave chase, collided and both landed into the water. Bapi screamed for help. His siblings rushed to the spot. Bodda, his eldest brother, jumped into the pond and managed to fish out two, very wet, sheepish-looking Montu and Golu. For the next few days, things were peaceful. Kalu had had enough excitement and regained his appetite.
Even as harmony reigned in the Sarkar residence, the rest of the country was in utter turmoil. Every morning the family could hear people singing Akla Cholo Re, Vande Mataram at prabhat pheris. Every evening, the family sat around the radio for updates on the freedom struggle. Names of Lal-Bal-Pal, Khudi Ram, Subhash Bose reverberated throughout the household. Young Bapi couldn’t understand the political talk but felt that things were about to change soon.
Soon after, when Bapi was playing outside, he heard people screaming in distress. Sensing danger, his pets huddled around him. They spotted angry men brandishing pickaxes, shovels, and sticks running towards them. He was too far from the house for others to hear his cry. One of the ruffians scooped him up, ready to behead him. Fortunately, a loyal servant heard Bapi’s anguishing cries. Claiming that Bapi was his son, not the zamindar’s, saved Bapi’s life then. It was later known that he had lost his life for that lie. Had it not been for him, Bapi wouldn’t be amongst us. It was indeed a fearful time for many who suffered the agony of the partition.
This oft-heard narrative still brought on goosebumps, and I cried out my gratefulness to the Almighty. Suddenly, I felt somebody shaking me. Concerned, my husband said that I was mumbling aloud in my sleep. Disoriented, I looked around and realized that the entire morning had been a dream!!!
Today, I can sleep in peace praying for those unsung heroes who gave their lives for our freedom!