Reminiscence – Srinjoy Bhattacherjee, Mumbai

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A million questions remained unanswered. Blood was spilled before sunset – though not killed; spared because it was an auspicious day, the daughter of the village headman was getting married tonight. The young man lay underneath the evening sky, not dead, but his spirit had suffered a silent demise. Hope had abandoned him but his consciousness hung on. Faint sound of men and cattle floated in from the village along with the evening breeze. That village where he belonged; where he was born. A lowborn.

A lowborn, you are, and yet such audacity! The headman exclaimed. The compounder had travelled all the way from the city to make a desperate attempt to prize his love away from the headman, her father, with his honesty and truthfulness, knowing somewhat that his actions might conjure the wrathful spirit of his lover’s kin, and that’s what happened. Little did it matter that he was a self-made man who loved the headman’s daughter. Little did it matter that the daughter loved him back and it was she who informed him in haste that her father has planned her nuptial fate. Little did it matter that he was being punished for being so impudent. That elusive hand! She was worth it.

She was worth it – all of it – the jewelry, the décor, the spread, the music – the headman did make his best efforts to impress the groom’s entourage. After all he was the son of that someone who owned the vote-bank of the region. That was the son’s identity, and all that mattered. And of course his family perched high on the social order, which, is so obviously a prerequisite to any sort of bonding that one may fathom to forge, how could that ever be ignored – blood is so important. So, they came in fleet of cars and the alliance would add more to that fleet. And more money and more riches; why not, he was the son, he deserved it for marrying the headman’s daughter, or for that matter, anyone’s daughter. Dowry is it then? No, not at all, the word spoils the sacrosanctity of such rituals. Ingrained in the society as it is, it deserves to continue. It is the right thing to do.

It was the right thing to do, he said. A lethargic ceiling fan spun over the two involved in a collective brainstorming. The room qualifies as a police station, the son sat opposite to the officer in charge. Punished and deservingly, he said, the words stay afloat in the room until the officer chose to ignore it; ranting of a drunk rather than of a determined soul. The officer said nothing and offered him tea in return. Few years have passed since that wedding which the officer had so excitedly attended. The ever so sincere officer and the great man’s prodigious son. Impulsive though it was, his actions shall be duly remedied. It was time for him to exhibit his loyalty to that someone. Nothing could go wrong, not under his watch.

Not under his watch. Never. He cannot be spared. The headman raged with venom on his tongue while the young man stood guilty before him, begging for the hand of his beloved. In a moment’s flash several men were summoned, who knew what to do. Nothing in the world appears to appeal more to mortal senses than the primal pleasure of physical superiority over another. No one saw him in the village again after that day. No one saw him limp towards the railway station with a bag and a broken heart. Little lights flickered in the darkness as he gazed at the open road from the train.

Little lights flickered in the darkness, as he gazed at the open road that day from inside the general ward. And then he saw that the lights came close and parked itself at the porch of the hospital, which is when he was summoned. Four compounders then rushed with stretcher, including him to hurriedly bring in the patient. It was a usual night wherein the usual work was being done by him with his usual sincerity. And with his usual sense of purpose he laid the patient on a stretcher and rushed inside. The doctor on night duty was summoned thereafter. As such it was a usual night.

It was indeed a usual night, which entailed engaging in usual drinking after a usual day of existence followed by the usual practice of physical domination. The fleet of cars that had come is now a few years old and the riches that followed the fleet of cars have also been well spent. Hence the physical domination, probably, or might be for other reasons, well, it’s never clear. Violence is also just as addictive as alcohol it seems.  One slap on the first day and then probably two thereafter, just to see how well it is received. But that day it was not received well, the recipient might have hit a point of saturation and reciprocated the same courtesy. And by this act of retort, usual night it stayed no more.

Usual night it stayed no more, as he was summoned inside the room. The doctor stood there with that someone along with the police officer-in-charge. You brought her in, the officer said, pointing at the stretcher. Nothing happened; she fell. Do you understand! She fell from the stairs and hurt her head. A bundle of currency was shoved in his shirt pocket. Keep it, he said. The pocket felt heavy. Your statement is being recorded as a witness, now sign on this paper. His mind failed to gauge the speed at which the world was moving. Papers in his hand, he started to read. And then there was a name. A name well known. The name, so finely etched in his nostalgia surfaced on the fine lines of the report. He looked at the stretcher once again, covered in white sheet; the right hand was still visible. Lifeless, the hand was. That elusive hand! Lifeless laid she, lifeless stood he. She, a victim of Death, while him, a victim of Life.  And a million questions remained unanswered.

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