The bubbles had hardly reached the surface of the river,when Akash raised his head above the water and took a deep breath,floating for a moment before clawing his way onto the banks.It was early morning and the high tides had just started to recede.Akash lay by the side of the river listening to the noisy chirping of the birds leaving their nests.The priest of the local Shiva temple had just clanked the temple bells and Akash knew it was time to go home.
The old mud house was not very far from the riverside,rather just a few minutes walk.As Akash entered his room to pay Pranaam to the Goddess Saraswati, he could see Arati through the window sweeping the portico.He could feel that Arati, his mother had suddenly aged quickly in the last three years after his father had died in a road accident.There were more wrinkles on her face than ever before and the strands of few gray hairs had invaded the front of her scalp more profusely.The onslaught of the bright sun rays into the room could not stop him to think about the better days,he had seen in the family before his father had left this mortal world.
Arati called out from the portico," Do you have to go to school today".Akash replied in the affirmative. "But there are Michils assembling at both the bridges",enquired Arati collecting the leaves strewn in the portico fallen from the Peepal Tree.Akash was confident, " Maa,I hope I can manage to go".
Nabin ,two years older to Akash had left home earlier causing needless tension in the minds of Arati.
"Maa,where is Dada? ",voiced Akash, knowing pretty well that the elder brother was not an early riser after the days when he dropped out from school in Class - 9,but he was conspicuously absent from the bedside.
Arati replied, " He is gone for the Michil,I think".The frowns were more prominent on the forehead of Arati as she wondered as to what was to happen during the protest march. She had heard from the mouths of several elderly men of the village that gun-toting outsiders were participating in the Michils.Her lean and undernourished body could not bear the uncalled for tension and anxiety anymore after the loss of husband in a gruesome road accident.He was an RT Homeguard in the local Narayangram Police Station.RT simply denotes Radio Telegraphy.In other words,he was deployed as a Homeguard in the telecommunication wing of the Police Station. A Cheerful and religeous person belonging to the, " VaishnavasSect"and a devoted follower of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a fifteenth century Bengali Spritual teacher.His forehead used to be smeared with white and red tilak coming down up to his nose.
On that fateful day which ended his life, he was assigned a training session at the district Head Quarters. He was a family man, who had big dreams of his sons acquiring good education and getting top jobs in the Police Department. After the training session, he had bought Nalgur Sandesh from Nimai Mistanna Bhander, famous sweetshop of the town and was crossing the road to board a home bound bus, when he was crushed under the wheels of a over speeding trailer.His dreams were shattered just like his mortal remains in the middle of the road.
The Mankhai village was situated by the tidal river, which was connected to the tributary of the Ganges at the fag end of its course near the Bay of Bengal. The river used to be filled up with water twice a day during high tides and was nearly bereft of water during low tides,when one could walk across the river in knee deep water. Akash was getting late for School as the sound of the drum beat was getting louder from the Michils. He approached the Jalpathy bridge, but found it be crowded by mostly group of 300 men and women, who had thronged the bridge to protest against the forcible taking over of their farmlands by the Government to hand it over to the Private Companies for Industrialisation. The peasantry groups were not ready to part with hundreds of acres of farmland, which they had inherited from their forefathers.
Most of the protestors were locals from adjoining villages of Kanhaipur and Tesla, but he could also spot a few new faces of outsiders who probably joined hands to save the farmland agitation . In the mob of agitators, he could also see his tall and lanky brother, Nabin holding aloft a placard which had on it written, " Go Back Police." For a moment he thought his father would have been surely displeased on absenting Nabin holding a placard against the Policemen. The department was no doubt very dear to there father. All of them had assembled on the bridge as if not to allow the Policemen to cross the bridge, their village had become a No-mans land for the Police . The women folks were strategically standing in the front row to put a natural barrier for the Police. The Protest gathered more wind, when the local peasant leader, Sobuj Pahan took the megaphone in his hand and started yelling anti-Govt. slogans at the top of his voice.
By this time, Akash could feel that crossing the bridge, which was only one km from his home was not possible. He could not go to school through the normal route. The other bridge, another three kms upstream at Noakhali was the scene for another pack of agitatorswith similar viewpoint and aggression towards the Police. For the first time in his life he was missing his classes that too , for no fault of his. His school on the other side of the river seemed to belong to a foreign land. Akash was very upset as he could not go to school that day. The whole of the afternoon, he sat quietly by the river brooding over his gloomy future ; unsure whether or not he would be able to sit for the examination. His mind was disturbed as he thought about the future of Narayangram too in the backdrop of the agitation. Zamin Bachao Andolon (Save the farmland) motto had brought together all the villagers from the Anchal and they were ready to sacrifice their lives to save their ancestral property. His elder brother Nabin was also one among them. At times, he thought, he too was with the agitators, but then again he was reminded that his father would certainly have not had allowed any demonstration against the Police. But again, industrialization could provide jobs and sources of income to the youth in the locality. He was surely in two minds about the necessity of the agitation.
The River was receding and laying bare its entails to the dimming light of the day. Akash turned his head to see his mother calling him from a distance. It was evening and time to go back home. Akash hurried across the paddy fields to take a short cut to home.
Later in the evening,Akash had his dinner withBhat (Steamed Rice ) and Mangur (catfish) maacher Jhol and made it early to his bed. There was a power cut in the village as it was a usual practice in the late evening. Some people had a view that this was to provide more electricity in towns.
Akash was unperturbed by the absence of power . These was a knock on the door and Arati called out , " Who's this?" " Maa, its me " Nabin fumbly uttered from behind the door. After serving dinner, Arati to tried to reason with Nabin "Heard there are gun-toting outsiders in the michils." " Yes, Maa they are friends who have come to help us against Police atrocities." Arati was placid and said " Why should the Police be against the villagers. " Don't you remember how much your father loved the department". Nabin had lost his cool composure and was simply trembling with anger and yelled back at his mother. " I hate the department who took away my father" before banging his room's door on her. Arati was red faced by could not hold back the tears from rolling down her cheeks.
Akash had feigned to be asleep, as Nabin put his head on the pillow beside him. For a few moments, both remained silent lying side by side in bed. The dim glimmer of the old lantern occasionally flared up to lighten of the hall. The sound of the cicadas continued unaffected outside in the dark. tossed from one side of the bed to face his elder brother, who was gazing as the sooted ceiling. Akash murmured "Dada, Can't you leave the michhils". Maa does not want you to confront the Police" Nabin in a soft tone tries to explain to his younger brother, "Bhai, it is our duty to fight for our rights. Even Gandhijee had done so". Before Akash could have asked any further question, Nabin turned his back on him and took a deep breath and comforted his brother by saying " Don't worry all will be fine. Now, go to sleep".
The dead husband had left no money for Arati, neither the Government had come up with any pecuniary assistance after his accidental death. Only a few cottahs of land attached to the backside of their little hard house existed as their property. This year it was going to be pretty tough for Arati to sustain the property. Only a few maunds of rice was left in the store which could last for only a couple of weeks. She could not imagine how to pay for the test fee for Akash before he sad for the exams next week. It was early march and no monsoon good arrive before June and she could get work an other peoples land then only in the sowing session. There was probably no other way, but to mortgage her gold bangles for a few hundred of rupees. She thought to take back the mortgage ornament from the goldsmith after the monsoon. It was getting late in the evening went she hurriedly left home with the gold bangles to mortgage at Kanu da's jewelery shop. The distance was nearly one kilometre from her house and she realised that she has to rush through the bamboo groves and walk through the labyrinthine paths thorugh the paddy fields to search Kanu da's shop. It was a small brick house, the front room was used as jewellery shop. But Kanu da's shop thrived more on pawning gold and silver ornaments than their sale. Arati knocked on the half closed door of the shop, when Kanu da enquired with a loud voice, "Who is this?". Arati replied "it is me, Arati. Nabin's mom". The village new her name as Nabin's mom more than Akash. "Come inside", Kanu da replied gently.
A dim CFL light was glowing inside the shop. The glass show cases were mostly empty except for a few silver chains and pendants giving a pale shine due to long exposure in the air.The chemical reaction ofgold with the air had tarnished the shine of the ornaments and turned it blackish. Kanu da, a small statured,bespectacled, middle aged man with gray beard was sitting in the corner on a chair. Arati took out the pair of bangles and handed the over to him. Kanu Da having held the bangles with his right hand, raised his left hand to switch on a stronger light, which was hanging over his head. Within a few second of inspection, he declared to Arati that the bangles were made of impure gold and he shall be able pawn them for 1600 rupees only and not a paisa more. Arati had no other option but to agree with the offer made by Kanu Da. As Kanu Da scribbled on a chit of paper, the details of the transaction, he further declared that 200 rupees shall be the interest to be paid every month,which shall become due by the end of the first week of every month. Arati completed the deal and left for home in the darkness. The next day Arati paid all the dues at the grocer's shop as well as the school fees of Akash. She felt relieved temporarily.
As days past by, the peasant agitation gathered more steam. More and more outsiders had become part of the movement.They were holding meetings at different parts of the anchal trying to garner more support from the local populace against the Civil and Police Administration.Things had come such a pass,that the agitators were not allowing any police to enter the "what thing believed" as liberated areas. The presence of Naxal elements in the group of agitators had made matters more complex.
It was going to be mid-march and the day had come for Akash to appear for his SSC examination. Mathematics was scheduled to be on the first day. Akash had prepared well as per the syllabus and was confident to do well. On the previous night, when Akash was cramming through the Geometry theorems for the last time as revision, Nabin had wished him luck before going to bed Akash had a late night, but there were still many formulae to revise and remember. Arati had a sleepless night, tossing from one side to the other in her bed. She was not only perturbed by the thought of Akash appearing for his maiden board examination, but grew restless as police had made an announcement to enter the liberated zone in the morning. She could feel that there shall be a bigger chaos,if the agitators tried to obstruct the police. There were rumors that there can be pitch-forked battle, if the police tried to resort to enter forcibly. The moon shone bright outside, but was surrounded by the clouds at times. Arati could see the flickers of the torches of the vigilantees in the distance, who were guarding the bridges. The bridges symbolized the boundary for the liberated zones, was soon to witness history after sunshine.
Nabin had touched his mother's feet before leaving home, a village custom to seek blessing of the elders before starting any auspicious expedition As Arati kept looking at her elder son, moving towards the Talpatti bridge, before getting lost among the crowds. Arati could hear beating of the drums and the periodical slogan against the police, the intensity of which kept increasing with time.
Akash had seen the crowd at Talpatti bridge earlier. It was massive and left no route for him to cross over. Today, he made his way to the other Tesla bridge,so that he could reach his school in time for the examination. But he was baffled to see a bigger crowed with men and women armed with Lathi and Tangi yelling slogans, "Police go back". The crowed had blocked the bridge and the police had kept a strong bandobast on the other side of the bridge trying to force their way into the liberated zone. Akash could not hold back his tears ,as if he knew he was going to miss his examination.
The river was swelling with water as it was high tide. Akash had secured his admit card and pens in plastic poly pack, before he took a plunge into the river to cross over.The current was strong and was pushing him back. He used all his energy to thrust his way on the other bank. He had finally made it, but was totally drenched. He walked across paddy fields and through the bamboo groves to reach his school .There was hardly any time left. He wrung his wet shirt and wore it back again. The admit card was dry and he carefully put it on the table. His hard work and diligence had paid off. He gave and excellent test without any mistake. He was thrilled as he could complete the answers for all questions well before time.
After the test was over. He made his way back to the river. No one was present there and there was only knee deep water in the river due to low tide. He walked across the river with a joyful glee , as if he felt like a bird who could fly in the blue sky above . As he approached home, he could a small crowd near his house. On coming closer, he could hear wails of crying women.
There was a big crowd standing in a circle in the courtyard outside their home.He pushed his way through the crowd unable to figure out what was wrong there .On reaching the centre, he was left dumbstruck. His limbs got stiff and his head started to spin and he felt as if he was going to fall down.There was body lying straight on the ground with a white sheet covering it from head to toe. This mother, Arati was sitting by the body and wailing inconsolably . Akash put his right hand on the shoulder of Arati as if trying to quell her wails. Arati turned around and clasped her son's hand. She was still shivering with tears rolling down her cheeks , when she fumbled inaudibly, "Dada is no more" looking up at Akash and then adding further before starting to wail again,"The police bullet has taken him away from us forever".
Akash did not cry, but became stiff with no exhibition of emotions.He kept on gazing at the shroud before turning his back and moving out of the crowd .He stood there alone with his eyes fixed on the setting sun across the western horizon. The Tesla bridge could be seen faintly where the sun had just set and where his brother fell to a police bullet and had become a martyr.Tears started to roll down his cheeks with the last rays of the sun took away light from the high clouds in the twilight sky and the crowd started to chant," Nabin Das Amar Rahe - Amar Rahe".