There was a world as chequered as a colorful quilt in our childhood.
There still remains the earth beneath my feet, the trees around, the sky above. I inhale deeply.
But no, I cannot now smell the mysterious scent of wilderness from a garden wet with the winter’s mist.
Our Santal gardener used to burn leaves to make a fire. That smell had frequently carried me to the memory of another birth. It reminds me of the fragrance of my mother’s body.
The smell would alert me even in the middle of a deep sleep—when my mother came to bed very late.
I would make sure to turn towards my mother and sleep.
Those were the days when we would get new books every year for new classes.
What fragrance was buried in each page of those new books!
I remember picking kadam flowers and using them as balls to play with. The kadam flowers’ pollens stuck to our hands and feet.
What else did we have then? How much does a person’s childhood have?
As soon as the afternoon light died, the world was captured by ghosts.
It was hard to go from one room to another. We would stay close to each other in that large house.
But as soon as dawn broke, we would awaken to jump out of bed and run out the door.
The world outside was wondrous. The sun arose, the sky was blue, and the trees were green. All were just like the day before. But I would still look at it with amazement. I would think—I don’t think I saw it just like this yesterday .
During that happy childhood a sorrowful event happened. My youngest uncle, Chhoto-kaka, lay on his deathbed. Our Kakima, his wife, had just become a part of our family about one and a half years ago.
A beautiful daughter had been born to them. The baby would turn on her stomach, wriggle her arms and feet and make endearing sounds.
But death came to claim Chhoto-kaka early, forcing him to leave a young wife and child behind.
His last breath came in the afternoon. Dadu, my grandfather, was sitting at the outside porch.
He held the tobacco pipe in his left hand; the fire had died in the mouth of the pipe long ago.
The moon arose later in the evening. Dadu stretched his legs out in the moonlight and sat.
Sounds of crying could be heard from inside the house. My Father and his elder brothers came and called Dadu,
“Come, don’t you want to see Priyonath?”
Dadu got up and went into the house, his wooden sandals clopping noisily as he walked. His face was a little tense, that’s all.
Chhoto-kaka was looking all around with large, wide-opened eyes, as if he was searching for somebody or something, and as if he could not find that object. He said over and over again—
“Why are you all so quiet? Say something, say something to me.”
My older uncle bowed low and asked Chhoto-kaka, “What would you like to hear, Priyonath?”
Chhoto-kaka sounded tired and irritated in his reply—“How do I know? Say something nice, something beautiful. Make me forget my suffering. Why am I leaving everybody at this young age? My daughter is here, my wife is here. Can none of you say anything to make me happy during this time of pain?”
It was a difficult test. No one could say anything.
Everyone stared at the dying man’s face, but no one could find the words. Yet everyone’s lips trembled.
Someone said in a strained way, “You will get better, Priyonath.”
Chhoto-kaka stopped him short with a reprimand, “Go away, don’t tell me—”
Somebody else said, “We will look after your wife and daughter, don’t be afraid—”
Chhoto-kaka’s face twisted with scorn as he heard this, “Ah, I know that—say something else. Will you?”
No one could find any words still.
Just at that time Dadu entered the room.
He walked with regular steady steps, and came and sat next to Chhoto-kaka’s bed.
Chhoto-kaka turned his face to see Dadu.
He said, “Father, you have not said a kind word to me all my life. It has always been discipline from you. Now it’s your turn to say something.”
Everybody was silent.
A mountain like wave of silence was rolling in from the invisible distance. It was coming to take Chhoto-kaka from the shores of life to an ocean of depthless darkness. That was the purpose of the silent wave. It was approaching, approaching - -
There was no more time. Chhoto-kaka’s tongue was lolling out, his eyes were opening and closing many times, his face was contorted with intense suffering.
Dadu bent over slightly and said in a calm voice, “Priyonath, we will meet again.”
What was in those words? Nothing much. Ordinary good-bye words spoken to guests at the door when they are about to leave, uttered with similar casual ease.
Yet on hearing those words the dying Chhoto-kaka’s face brightened with joy. He closed his eyes peacefully. He fell asleep.
These are memories of a long time past. The magical, beautiful childhood world that was like an exotic quilt—is lost forever.
I no longer smell those enchanting fragrances, the same mornings never come back. My heart yearns for the scent of my Mother’s body.
The earth is slowly becoming discolored. My branches are drying up like the limbs of an old tree. Its leaves are falling. A wave is being created in the center of eternity. One day it too will wash me far away from the shores of this world.
A phrase from my childhood vibrates to this day like a struck arrow in my chest.
Whenever I become aware of this inevitable wave of eternity, that phrase trembles secretly in my heart.
It brings back to me the childhood sensations of smell, sound, touch.
Just like I used to turn, sleepily, towards my Mother on inhaling her aroma in my childhood, so I turn towards the earth now in my sleep.
I repeat to myself, “We will meet, we will meet again.”Published in Parabaas, December 2016
The original short story "Dekha Hobey" (দেখা হবে) by Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay is collected in Galposamagro (vol. 1) (গল্পসমগ্র [১ম খণ্ড]; দে'জ), published by Dey's, Kolkata (2013).