CHAPTER 4- THE BETRAYAL
Durga’s eyes welled up with tears as she stared at the man with curly grey and white hair, chubby cheeks, clad in a simple white kurta pajama. He stood there, holding two jute bags filled with groceries, smiling like a baby . Durga could no longer hold herself back and rushed to hug him, her good old Kanaimama.
She has had, her share of very special moments with him when she was a child. Durga closed her eyes while resting her head on her uncle’s shoulders and travelled to the most peaceful memories of her life. She could see a little Durga rocking on her uncle’s back . Kanai pretended to be her imaginary horse. She could also see Neera and her mother, Uma, standing right there, upset with Kanai. Now, that was their usual behavior whenever, he participated in childish acts with her. Every moment from her past looked like a dream -a dream she was living in the present. The rides on Kanaimama’s shoulders while they roamed around places , stealthily visiting the stall on wheels to have hajmi guli or going to the fair and returning late , only after having a handful of street foods and their fun just never seemed to end. When last time Durga visited Kolkata, it was on the occasion of her uncle’s wedding . After his marriage, they returned to Bangladesh .
Kanaimama couldn’t believe his eyes. He pinched himself and then, laughed out loud. “Ohh amaar Dugga ma, tui eshe gechish maa .”*
Durga replied, “Haan mama ebar anekdiner jonne. Ma Pathiye dilen. Okhankar Katha sab bolbo tomake.”*
She walked to her mamabaari’s entrance and picked up the green box which she has dropped on the doorway, on hearing Kanai’s voice. Neera reminded her repeatedly to keep the box safe. It was precious. Durga closed her eyes for a few seconds, thinking of Neera…..
Neera opened her eyes.
Her throat was dry. She tried to get up from the cot, but, she was too tired and weary . She looked around to figure out what time of the day it was. Through the window she caught a glimpse of the starry night sky. Coughing, she slowly rose to her feet and walked towards the door. To her amazement, the door was locked from outside. Who did that ? She tried to pull it open and knocked several times, but, all in vain. She was so thirsty . She dropped down on the floor tired, begging for water, “Keu ektu jal dao. Jal dao daya kore.”*
A woman’s voice responded, “Durga Kothaye?”*
Shocked, Neera glanced towards the door. She knew who was outside. The voice was familiar. “Ami jaani na . Bis–was kor…te par-chi na jey tui amon korli amader shathe.”*
The woman answered, “Besi katha koiyo na. Nijer katha bhaibo, Durga kothaye geche na koile ek fonta pani o jutba na”.*
Neera sighed. Betrayal has become a part of her life since she was a child. And yet again, she was betrayed.
With a distant look in her eyes, she visualized Durga jumping around and playing. The vision made her smile . Then suddenly the smile faded as she heard gunshots and could see a group of men shouting slogans, “Vande Mataram ! Vande Mataram!” ………………….. And Durga, disappeared.
Neera was sick and felt like she was hallucinating. She blinked several times and before she could understand, she had already travelled down the memory lane- to the period that marked the beginning of betrayals in her life.
She could see freedom fighters running towards the bullets fired by British officers in bright red uniforms. They embraced death as an honor- a sacrifice for the sake of a nation’s freedom. It was British India. Neera’s birthplace.
The Indian flag was hoisted in New Delhi by Jawaharlal Nehru on August 15, 1947. India became independent and its independence did cost a lot of lives and resources. A day before, on August 14, 1947 — The partition of India was put-into-effect and the independent country of Pakistan was formed. A portion of Bengal, in which majority of the population were muslims, was annexed to the newly formed country’s map. Neera lived in that part – East Bengal.
A war began.
Several people started migrating to the country that contained their religious majorities . Fights over territories, communal riots, little babies crying as their families were killed brutally and left to burn, religious killings….. it was blood and betrayal all over. Many tried to flee to the safer adjoining areas with families. Several muslims tried to make their way into Pakistan whereas the Hindus in the newly formed state tried traveling to India. The railway stations were terrorized by mass killings. Abduction and rape of girls and women of the other religion, became the greatest weapon and almost a regular occurrence in this religious war. Neera and her family being a Hindu family in East Pakistan, tried their best to survive through all odds.
Neera sighed again. Though the events belonged to her past, they connected her to the present. She could still get the feeling of every moment she left behind. Those moments gave her goosebumps, made her tremble even today….
It can’t be described , the feeling of being suddenly treated like a stranger on the land that you considered to be your own, of being pushed back across boundaries on the basis of your religion. Neera’s father couldn’t leave his homeland, his crops, the house which he so lovingly built for his family. She still remembers the sight of her parents weeping over her elder brother’s body , who was brutally killed in the ongoing riots. Neera’s mother fell ill shortly after that incident and died. Treating her illness with medication was impossible then, due to the social unrest in the area. Rahman chacha and Fatimah chachi, their neighbors, stood by them in this critical hour and helped them perform the last rites of Neera’s mother and brother. Neera and her family were forced to flee from their home long before her brother’s death. They had to let their crops burn, and allow tears to roll down their cheeks incessantly. Neera’s father refused to leave the territory and they had to take shelter in Rahman chacha’s place . Since then, Rahman chacha protected them from all possible threats. She lost her beloved brother to the riots but, somehow the rest of the family survived the terror.
But, this was just the beginning…..
- “Ohh amaar Dugga ma, tui eshe gechish maa .”*—- “Ohh Durga, you are really here. ” Kanai was ecstatic on seeing Durga at his door.
- “Haan mama ebar anekdiner jonne. Ma Pathiye dilen. Okhankar Katha sab bolbo tomake”—- “Yes uncle , this time have come for a long stay at your place. Grandma sent me (Durga called her grandma Ma). Will tell you everything about what’s going on back at home later.”
- “Durga kothaye?”—- “Where is Durga?”
- “Ami jaani na . Bis–was kor…te parchi na jey tui amon korli amader shathe.”*—-“I don’t know. Can’t believe that you are doing all this with us .”
- “Keu ektu jal dao. Jal dao daya kore.”—- “Please give me some water.”
- “Besi katha koiyo na. Nijer katha bhaibo, Durga kothaye geche na koile ek fonta pani o jutba na”-” Don’t talk too much. Think about yourself. Unless you reveal where Durga is, you won’t get a drop of water. “
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