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Friday, June 11, 2010

SONAJHURI [8]

Rebamasi was a nurse by profession. She came from a well educated and well to do Brahmin family in Faridpur in East Pakistan now Bangladesh. Her father was a scholar in Sanskrit and was a teacher in Brojomohon College, Faridpur. Her mother was a graduate but she never worked. Rebamasi and her brother both were graduates. They had a small temple on their compound and her father himself performed the duties as the priest and they organized Durgapuja and Kalipuja every year. Both their Muslim and Hindu neighbours alike held him in high esteem and would come to him seeking advice on many occasions. He was known as Mastermoshai locally. Before and after the partition in 1947 most of his Hindu neighbours fled but mastermoshai refused to believe that there would be any danger to him and his family from the Muslims. The Hindus and Muslims lived like a family before partition and no one ever dreamt that one day they might be for each other’s blood. One night after they went to their beds after dinner, they heard a lot of people shouting and making breaking noise out side their house, chanting Allaho Akbar in a very threatening manner and stones were thrown at their closed doors and windows. The family clung together shaking with fear but dare not come out. In the morning their neighbour Karin Khan knocked softly on their door and when the door was opened came in swiftly and closed the door again. From Rebamasi’s Karim Chacha they came to know that the night before their temple had been wrecked, idols broken. He advised them to come with as little valuables as they could and hide in his place. The whole day they sat trembling in the shed where Karim Cha Cha kept his goats. The locals did not dare invading his place as he was the second officer of the local Police Station. Karim Khan’s wife Reshma Bibi brought them food and milk, but none of them could eat or drink anything except water out of extreme fear and anxiety. They could hear from the shed people shouting and breaking into their house, and realizing they have fled they looted anything that they could lay there hands to. About one O Clock in the night Karim Khaan brought out his old black Sedan and they traveled on it toward the border. Many times the car was intercepted by patrolling Muslims on the look out for escaping Hindus and they would crouch over the seat and Karim Khan being known to them and being a police man, they let him pass without searching. That it was a long and tedious journey as the border was a long way off and they had to change a lot of track to reach it; Karim Khan never leaving them until they were completely safe and out of danger. They still did not believe that all Muslims hate the Hindus because then how could they explain the love and compassion shown by Karim Khan and his wife. That night was the worst night in their lives.

Once in India they had to go through a long and tedious process to enlisted themselves in the register of refugees and under the Government of India Refugee Rehabilitation Scheme her brother got a job as a clerk in a Bank in Kolkata. Although Rebamasi was also a graduate she had to be satisfied with a Nurse’s job after going through a rigorous training in a Govt hospital. They could not bring much of their belonging with them and had to live in abominable conditions. They were very poor people . Rebamasi took me to her parents once. They lived near a slum in a one room flat, all four of them. In one corner stood a giant wooden cot on which slept Rebamasi her brother and their father and her mother slept on the floor. There was one narrow passage between the bathroom the bedroom where they cooked and also took their food. They came to Calcutta from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) after the partition and could not bring much of their belongings with them. The room, that the well to do family from East Pakistan lived in, resembled rooms that you may find in any of the present day slum. I felt very bad for her. I now guess it might be the poverty and the injustice of that life meted out to them, induced her to act so mean and selfish with a small motherless boy like Bumba. Circumstances some times influence peoples behave in strange manners.

Before Rebamasi came to our life, Bumba and I were inseparable. We played and fought with each other without anybody interfering. He would tease me and pull me by my hair and I would and run after him and pinch or box him as I wished. Some times when the fight lasted longer than desired and became serious, daima would intervene, scolding both of us or cajoling us as she wished. Enter Rebamasi and we stopped playing or fighting spontaneously. If we fought Rebamasi would separate us and scold only Bumba , saying “You are a big boy and should be ashamed for fighting with your little sister”. She was extremely partial and to be frank I did not dislike it. While Rebamasi would scold Bumba I would show him my tongue from behind her and he would get angrier and would try to catch me ignoring her and that would anger her further.

Ma was gone in early October, just before the Durgapuja and on January next I was put to a high school. My school started early in the morning and by the time daima prepared me for school and put me to the school bus that came to pick me up, Bumba would be still in bed in his room. The bus dropped me at our door in mid day and after taking bath and having lunch I was put to bed for a short nap and Bumba came back from his school about four , four thirty and went out to play after changing and having some snacks. Daima would take me to the park in the afternoon, there I would play with some neighbourhood kids and come back and after about an hour. This was the time when Bumba and I played and talked among ourselves. But on some pretext or the other Rebamasi would intervene and separate us. We slept in the same room and the nights were our private affair. We had so many secret things to share, to tell each other, which the elders never would understand. And we relished this privacy but it was not to be like this. Bumba used to tell me stories of his school and his friends and he was very good at caricature. He entertained me with funny stories which were mostly true but exaggerated to make an effect. He was also very good at reciting and recited my favourite poems , written by Sukumar Ray and Rabindranath Tagore. I don’t exactly remember when, but it seems after a year or two Rebamasi moved to our house permanently and made separate arrangements for us. So far she was sleeping in her own house but she shifted to our house and my room and Bumba was relegated to the anti-room that we used to refer as the “choto-ghar” or the tiny room . In the beginning I missed him terribly, his stories, his recitations, his funny caricature; but gradually with time I became accustomed to the new arrangement. Rebamasi knew stories of kings and queens, prince and princes and demons and witches and I started liking those stories better. From then on Bumba and I met only at meal times and in the evening when we both returned from our respective play fields and daima would make us drink some hot milk and also on the long school holidays when we went together to visit our grandpa.
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