CHAPTER 5 – THE FLASHBACK
Neera turned around to see the box that was resting on the table beside the door. It was a pretty green metallic box with flowers painted on it. The shiny green color was too attractive.
She served cha* to her father, Rahman chacha and Kabir bhai*, Rahman chacha’s son….but, her mind was in the green box. She kept wondering about what was in it ! Rahman chacha* kept it covered with a beautifully embroidered piece of cotton cloth and let nobody touch it. That created all the curiosity in her.
Years passed since the partition . The people who survived through the rough phase were still struggling to come to terms with the unexpected occurrence of events. Friends turned into enemies , houses burnt, lands taken, several families were left homeless. Most of them lost their loved ones to the communal riots. Children were left on the roads to die while their parents were burnt alive. Only two kinds of people turned out to be lucky – the ones who escaped with their family and the ones who were killed along with their family members. The unlucky ones were left behind to live with vengeance in their minds, for the other religion. The number of people missing was overwhelming. Women of all ages were tremendously at risk of their dignity being violated. In the train stations most families tried to save their young girls by pushing them in the compartments that hardly had any space to breathe. If not for Rahman chacha and his wife, Neera and her family would also have fallen prey to the blood thirst and hatred of the people whom they had once considered to be their friends . But, the storm has finally calmed down, although for just a while. Rather, a bigger storm was in the making, gathering more and more strength on its way, before striking hard, one more time …….The war has just begun.
Kabir Bhai was not very happy about providing shelter to Neera and her family. But something, kept him from taking any drastic step against them. Neera had a feeling that, it was the green box. Somehow he knew the destiny of the box, it was apparent that he wanted it badly, from the way he looked at it.
Bhasha Andolon or the Bangladesh Language movement started , soon after the partition. West Pakistan , was more powerful financially and hence it also dominated the country. The higher authorities decided upon making Urdu, the official language there. This was followed by protests from the Bengalis who resided in the Eastern wing. They accounted for almost 54 per cent of the population of Pakistan then. On 21st February, 1952, students started gathering on the premises of Dhaka University , protesting against the government’s decision of declaring Urdu as the national language of Pakistan when, the majority of the population had Bengali as their mother tongue. The police arrested some students for violation of section 144*. When the students tried to make their way into the building of East Bengal Legislative Assembly to make their protests heard and their point understood, the police open fired, killing several of them. As soon as the news of the killings spread across East Bengal, shops , offices and public transport were all shut down and the Eastern wing of the country came to a complete standstill. It was a general strike all over the region. A period of unrest has just begun, and it was being seen in bits and parts from the very beginning, right after the partition…..
Neera’s father was a farmer. But earlier he used to serve at the rajbaari*. While the British government left India for good, the monarchy met with its end and a democratic republic was born. Rahman chacha also worked with her father in the raj baari . According to him, he received the green box from Rani ma* for a favor he did to the raj parivar*. Neera was not sure what the favor was. She never remembered chacha mention it.
Kabir Bhai also took an active part in the bhasha andolan. Neera still remembers how terrified both their families were , when they heard the consequence of the protests. The murder of Neera’s elder brother during the riots, was unexpected and tragic. So both the families were worried about the safety of Kabir as well . Kabir did not return for a long time since then. Neera saw his parents weep badly and helplessly loiter around the streets asking people around, looking for him. Rahman chacha looked for a lot of mental support then, from his friend, Neera’s father. Days passed and now, they started to feel that they might no longer find him. Kabir’s mother wouldn’t believe that her son would never come back. Fatimah chachi almost lost her sanity and started to hate Neera and her family. She believed Kabir’s hatred for them has taken him far away from his parents. The situation worsened when she swore not to accept food and water till the day Neera and her family would live in their house. And then, Neera’s father decided to leave his friend’s house, with his family.
The green box went with them. Neera saw Rahman chacha secretly hand it over to his father, whispering something in his ears.
They went back to their land. Their house and crops were no more. Their cows were taken or burnt. Her father was not sure where to begin from, since he had no aid to plough the land and no confidence that the land would again yield crops.
A drop of tear got so heavy in her eye, that Neera had to shut her eyes and rub it off. She looked outside, it was still the dark dark night , she never knew if she would see the sun rise again. Her hair greyed , her skin wrinkled , she has lived a whole life , been through different periods of historic significance, lived through a series of ups and downs from an age so young . If not for Durga and the green box , she would have given up her wish to live long long ago. She felt like having gulped a good number of thorns, her thirst was increasing and even with the growing discomfort in her throat ,she knew, she would not be given water . Trying to make more saliva in her mouth she attempted to wet her throat in order to decrease the soreness. She could hear the female voice calling out to her from outside, but, she could hardly make out what she was saying. Her vision started getting blurry and eyelids drooped.
Durga heard a sound near the door. She pressed her ears against it and heard footsteps advancing towards the room. She moved back quickly and grabbed her Kanai mama’s now stiff, cold hand tight, still believing that her mama would save her if something untoward happens. The footsteps got closer and closer and her heart was beating faster , faster and faster ….. and the door flung open. Durga shut her eyes tight……..
- Cha- tea.
- Bhai- brother.
- Chacha- uncle.
- Section 144- Section 144 of the criminal procedure code, was imposed suddenly by the muslim league government in Dhaka on 21st February, 1952 for 30 days. This section prohibited processions, demonstrations and gatherings of more than 4 people in any public place or thoroughfare in the city.
- Rajbaari – The royal palace.
- Raj parivar- The royal family.
- Ranima – The queen.
© Sohini Dutta and A weaver at work Blog, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sohini Dutta and A weaver at work Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.