was a world as chequered as a colorful quilt in our childhood.
still remains the earth beneath my feet,
the trees around, the sky above. I inhale deeply.
no, I cannot now smell the mysterious scent of wilderness from a garden wet
with the winter’s mist.
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.
smell would alert me even in the middle of a deep sleep—when my
mother came to bed very late.
would make sure to turn towards my mother and sleep.
were the days when we would get new books every year for new classes.
fragrance was buried in each page of those new books!
remember picking kadam flowers and using them as balls to play
with. The kadam flowers’ pollens
stuck to our hands and feet.
else did we have then? How much does a person’s childhood have?
soon as the afternoon light died, the world was captured by ghosts.
was hard to go from one room to another. We would stay close to each other in
that large house.
as soon as dawn broke, we would awaken to jump out of bed and run out 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
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.
beautiful daughter had been born to them.
The baby would turn on her stomach, wriggle her arms and feet and make
death came to claim Chhoto-kaka early,
forcing him to leave a young wife and child behind.
last breath came in the afternoon. Dadu, my grandfather, was sitting at the
held the tobacco pipe in his left hand; the fire had died in the mouth of the
pipe long ago.
moon arose later in the evening. Dadu stretched his legs out in the moonlight and
of crying could be heard from inside the house. My Father and his
elder brothers came and called Dadu,
don’t you want to see Priyonath?”
got up and went into the house, his wooden sandals clopping noisily as he walked. His face was a little tense,
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—
are you all so quiet? Say something, say something to me.”
older uncle bowed low and asked Chhoto-kaka, “What would you like to hear,
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
stared at the dying man’s face, but no one could find the words. Yet everyone’s
said in a strained way, “You will get better, Priyonath.”
stopped him short with a reprimand, “Go away, don’t tell me—”
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?”
one could find any words still.
at that time Dadu entered the room.
walked with regular steady steps, and came and sat next to Chhoto-kaka’s bed.
turned his face to see Dadu.
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.”
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 - -
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.
bent over slightly and said in a calm voice, “Priyonath, we will meet again.”
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.
on hearing those words the dying Chhoto-kaka’s face brightened with joy. He
closed his eyes peacefully. He fell asleep.
are memories of a long time past. The magical, beautiful childhood world that
was like an exotic quilt—is lost forever.
no longer smell those enchanting fragrances, the same mornings never come back.
My heart yearns for the scent of my Mother’s body.
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.
I become aware of this inevitable wave of eternity, that phrase trembles
secretly in my heart.
brings back to me the childhood sensations of smell, sound, touch.
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.
repeat to myself, “We will meet, we will meet again.”