My Golden Bond

Photo Credit:www.pixabay.com Photographer:Kalliwumpe

      

1

I passed at the turning of the road. I had to. My heavy breath and tired legs needed a break. Ronnie was a few steps ahead of me. My sudden break made him turn around.

“What’s wrong ? Tired?”, he asked.

“Hmm….”, I could barely answer him.

“Ah, now what should I do with you Grana ? Do you want me to carry you?”, he queried. He seemed to expect an answer in affirmative.

“Won’t be a bad idea. Would you be able to?”, I asked.

His lips broke into a mild grin . “Why not! Wait there, I am coming”. He retraced his steps back to where I was standing. He inspected me – probably deciding on the right posture to pick me up.

“Hold my neck tight with both your hands Grana, it will be easier for me to carry you”, he instructed while encircling his arms around my waist. Arms that had barely witnessed six birthdays!

I could not help smiling. Thankfully he did not notice my smile. Rather with a serious tone he commanded, “Now, keep walking Grana! Don’t worry, I am carrying you safely”. I kept walking, as commanded, setting aside the scientific impossibility of walking and ‘being carried’ – all at the same time! A lone cyclist who was passing by laughed at this strange image of a conjoined grandmother and her grandson trying to walk in that fashion. Ronnie stared back at him with crossed eye-brows, just the way his father used to whenever he was annoyed.

“Stupid man! What is there to laugh?”, he muttered angrily.

“You shouldn’t use such bad words Ron, he is much older to you!”, I chided him gently.

By now he had begun to realize the immense hurdle of walking in such conjoined manner. Moreover his patience was giving away. He cleared his throat and said, “Ahem…well, Grana, aren’t you feeling better now?”.

“Are you tired already, Ron ? Am I too heavy for you?”, I teased him.

“No, no it is fine. I am too strong…I can easily carry an old person like you. Just that I was wondering if…..”, he began to sound helpless.

I suppressed my laughter and said,” Of course I am feeling better my love. In fact I think it is better if we walk down the rest of the road. If you hold my hand that should be okay”, I assured him, much to his relief. His face bore a huge grin as he let go of his tiny arms around my waist . He slipped three of his fingers into mine and held tight.

Last night there had been a short spell of Norwester and the road now wore a moist-red look – having been carpeted with gulmohar flowers. It seemed as if we were walking on a bed of red velvet. Ronnie picked up a Gulmohar bud and looked amused at the green tubular bud with an orange hue.

“ What’s this Grana? A fruit?”

“No love, it is a bud.”

“ What’s a bud?”

“It’s a baby flower”.

“But I can’t see the baby flower Grana!”

I took the bud from his hand and peeled-off the outer green casing of sepals – one by one. A burst of vivid orange greeted us from within. “Here’s the flower Ron”, I pointed to the crumpled, yet-to-bloom petals.

“Aha..so here they are – hiding inside”, his eyes brightened as he examined the bud closely..

“They are being protected till they grow up”, I tried to explain to him.

“Like Mum and Daddy protects me, right, Grana?”, he rattled off, his voice moist with I-know-all pride. I nodded and ruffled his hair with my hand. “And who protects the grown-ups Grana?”. His box of curiosity was not full yet.

Out of breath, I took a pause and said, “Well, God protects us. And sometimes even small children like you do”.

“Aha..just the way I did now when I carried you, isn’t it Grana?”, he was thrilled.

“Yes darling, just the way you did!”, I smiled back at him.

By now we had come to the end of the road and the gate to our house was beckoning us. I could see Nita standing at the gate. Her anxious eyes were looking for us. Having sighted his mother Ronnie waved at her. Nita waved back at him but I did not miss the hint of annoyance in her looks. Really, I should not have taken Ronnie for such a long walk, it has been quite a while now!

2

“What’s this Daddy?”, Ronnie screamed out – loud enough for us to break our chain of concentration. We shifted our glance from our packing activity to look at his prized possession – a wooden car with broken rear wheels.

“ That’s my car”, Amod answered, his eyes glistening at the sight of his childhood favourite in the hands of his son.

“And where is the motor?”, Ron tried to discover the non-existent engine of the car. His father laughed out loud.

“Well, those days we did not have any motor in our cars. They were made of wood or plastic but none had a motor”.

Disappointed, Ronnie kept the car to one side and continued to rummage through the old card-board box that his father had kept aside. Nita and Amod went back to their packing spree. She held tight the brown, leather suitcase while he tied a rope around it. The lock just wouldn’t work!

“I still don’t understand why we should pack all the photo-albums. Anyway we won’t be taking them and it would be difficult for Ma to maintain all these old pieces”, Nita tried to place her practical advice.

“ Forr mmmy ssson to ssee”, Amod spoke, amidst his trysts with the rope and the suitcase.

“Nita is right Amod, they do not allow too many suitcases or boxes in the home”, I tried to reason with him.

Amod was about to say something in defence when Ron’s excited voice made us look at him yet again. “ And what is this Daddy?”

Three pairs of eyes glanced at his hand. Pinched in between his index finger and thumb was a worn-out ribbon- a little less or more than three inches – the matted copper look bore witness to the fact that it was once golden in colour. Amod looked at it with bewildered wonder and then whispered in a hushed tone, “ Golden Bond….thats my golden bond!”.

“Golden Bond?” Ronnie was curious.

Amod pulled his son to himself and made him sit on his lap. He cleared his nearly-choked throat and said, “ There is a lovely story behind it Ron. Those days we were staying alone in this house – ma and I – your Grana and Daddy. Your Grandpa had just died and only both of us were left alone. It was a rainy day. Not just a rainy day, a bad rainy day. The rain just wouldn’t stop. I had high fever and there was not a drop of medicine in the house. To buy a medicine those days we had to go to the city side. Grana wanted to go and buy the medicine but I was too scared to let go of her. So Grana found this little ribbon that had just been lying around. She tied it around my wrist and said, “Son, this is our golden bond – the bond between you and me. As long as you have this ribbon tied to your wrist, remember your mother is there with you – no trouble, no fear can touch you.”. With the ribbon round my wrist I was not one bit afraid. Grana could go and buy the medicine and come back. It was a magic bond. I did not feel afraid at all. From that day on till I grew up I used to make sure that I wore my golden bond whenever I was afraid or uncertain – somehow my fear would just vanish”.

Amod concluded his story. His eyes were already moist and I was afraid of making an eye contact with him lest my eyes too betray me. I pretended to be busy with the rest of the packing while Ronnie went back to his treasure hunt.

3

I knew I would find him there. I tiptoed my way to the corner of the terrace where he was standing . His back turned towards me he was staring at the darkness outside. He didn’t notice my presence but didn’t shudder nevertheless when I placed my hand on his shoulder. It was almost as if he was longing for this touch.

“Ma, what is that smell? I know the smell but somehow can’t remember the name of the flower.”, he said without looking at me.

“That is wild jasmine Ammo”, I answered, somehow stressing too much on the word ‘Ammo’. It had been ages since I had called him by his pet name. My Ammo was now Ronnie’s Daddy and Nita’s Amod but I never regretted this. Having been widowed very early in my life I had come to accept the realities of life with alarming calmness. So much so that many my close relatives call me “stone-hearted”. The nickname which was once a hushed whisper is now a loud wonder but I have not let myself change. I know, only by accepting the reality I can make Amod’s life easier.

“ Ma, do we really have to do this?”, Amod turned to look at me. His eye-lids were swollen and rimmed with a reddish hue. I knew he had been crying. He was always the soft one – just like his father.

“Don’t be silly Ammo. You both are there in Bangalore and I cannot possible continue to maintain such a huge house. Moreover the place isn’t as quiet as it used to be. Isn’t it wiser to sell it?”, I tried hard to reason with him.

“ But..but why on earth should you stay in an old-age home, Ma? You can always sell the house and come and stay with us in Bangalore”, he sounded desperate.

Yes, yes, yes Ammo, I want to go with you, I want to stay with you. I was tempted, I was willing to be not so stone-hearted. But my lips took control of the situation. “ No Ammo, that is difficult. I am old now. Even though I don’t stay with your aunts or uncles I need to be in touch with them sometimes. Moreover I am used to being in this state….”, I was losing my circle of reasons.

Amod was adamant. “ That’s not done Ma. If you stay in an old-age home your loneliness will not go…Moreover, what will people say?”.

“Oh, don’t worry about that. They all know about your Ma, Ammo”, I tried to laugh away the heaviness that was getting built up in the atmosphere. I patted his right palm and lifted it to plant a small kiss there, his cheeks were way beyond my reach now!

4

Thank God we made it on time! The announcement of the incoming train was blaring through the loudspeakers at the station as were entering the platform. Of course there were still some minutes left, the train had just departed the previous station. As we placed the luggage on the concrete bench of the platform Nita made a last minute check. Satisfied at not having left any luggage behind, she turned towards me and smiled. “I know I have this fetish for making everything prim and perfect…..”, she sounded apologetic.

“Don’t worry, that’s the story with almost every woman, “ I smiled back.

She bent down to touch my feet. I placed my hand over her head to bless her.

“You take care of your health Ma. This time you look unnaturally frail and tired. Thankfully most of the packing is over. The sale is also through. Now all you have to do is to move in to the old-age home this weekend”, she tried to assure me.

“Don’t worry Nita, I’ll be fine. Remember you have an early morning flight to Bangalore tomorrow. Don’t miss it. You’ll reach Kolkata from here in about an hour. Do give me a call once you reach your brother’s house there’, I tried to shove in as many instructions as possible because the train was already chugging in. I turned around to kiss Ronnie. And that is when it happened.

I was stooping down to kiss him when mid-way he stopped me. He put his hands into his pocket and pulled out the worn-out, almost-discoloured golden ribbon. With tiny fingers which had barely learnt to tie a knot he tied it around my frail wrist. He then stood on his toes to reach upto my ears and whispered, “Grana, that’s my golden bond! As long as you have it tied to your wrist, remember I am there to protect you and take care of you. You’ll be fine Grana”.

For many nano-seconds, seconds or perhaps minutes I stood there – dumbstruck. Mechanically I led them to their coach, I even waved them a good-bye but I knew my senses were numbed. And then as the train merged away into the dusty oblivion a warm tear-drop rolled down my sunken cheeks.

For all these days I was in two minds about showing my biopsy report to Amod – I wanted to tell him but the practical mother in me held me back. I just couldn’t tell him the real reason of selling the house and the real reason why I completed all the nomination documents in such a hurry. I just didn’t want to burden my son, I wanted to die a dignified death by just surrendering myself at the hands of disease and death.

But now, at this moment, I felt an irrevocable urge to live on. My life was no longer mine, it was entrapped in the half-tied knot of a discoloured ribbon. I wanted to survive – at least give a strong fight to live on – for the sake of the belief of a six year old boy – for the sake of my golden bond!

__END__

Originally Published at: yourstoryclub.com

Photo Credit: http://www.pixabay.com Photographer: Kalliwumpe

Our Family Circus – Part 2

CIRCUS 2

Among the crowd of guests, visitors and not-so-welcome visitors adorning our home, there were three major Wanted ones.

Wanted…..

They would slither past the front room, holding their breath tight, lest my dozing grand-mother would be alerted. Normally it takes nine and half seconds to cross the room but they would make it in four and quarter. Tip-toeing with such a speed is a near impossibility but they would accomplish the feat with success every time. Once they reach the first floor they would breathe in ease. No, I am not talking about thieves. They were my father’s friends.

Once within their planning den they would draw up blue-print for bringing sea changes in the society – beginning from village, ranging up to nation.

And then would begin their list of ‘wanted’. Invariably they would nominate their friend Pranab for all such demand and supply activities. It would begin by stealing matchboxes from the kitchen. He would then be sent to ask for tea from my grandmother. And this harmless ‘ask’ was actually equivalent to waking up a sleeping Tiger and borrowing it’s stripes. Unaware of their presence so far, my grandmother would be startled awake from her sleep.

“Maashima, little bit….just a too-little bit of tea would be enough for all of us”, he would mumble feebly.

“And when on earth did you arrive?”, my grandmother would thunder.

The demand would step down further.

“If not milk tea; just a light raw tea would be fine.”

Grumbling, cursing and letting the poor kettle face her displeasure, grandma would still make their tea. Milk Tea!

What would begin at twelve in the noon would get over at twelve in the night. The demand of the ‘world reformists’ in the meanwhile would be never-ending – erasers, scissors, old piece of cloth, ink for the fountain pen, old news-paper…… And ofcourse, not to forget the full two meals!

This was one reason why we always had the practice of taking an extra hand-full of rice-grains while cooking.

Given a choice (it did happen many a times!) they would just find a nook and sleep the night away. But near around mid-night my grandmother would noisily climb up the stairs and stand with her hands on her hips – casting her long shadow on the corridor. There would a sudden hustle-bustle – as if things were just about to be wound up. And then there would be a mad-rush down the stairs before my grandma could raise her voice!

Wanted….

In those days when Flipkart was yet to unleash their cart, we still had a number of ‘service providers’ right at our door-step. They were varied, colorful and passionate people. A tattooed cow-dung cake seller, who would almost climb up my grandmother everytime she spotted our pet dog Jimmy.  A sweet-vendor selling jaggery and coconut balls from an awfully dirty, rusted, tin box. A man selling rubber slippers door-to-door, asking us to ‘choose’ from his wide range of choices- blue and white or blue and white!

And then there was Bhola – the barber. He would be commissioned once in two weeks. A seat would be laid out for my grandfather in our family garden and then he would take out his magic-box. We would huddle in mesmerized wonder as he would take out his magic props – an oily comb, three scissors, a mirror with a cracked edge and his shaving razor. His fingers would match the pace of lips – letting out one social gossip after the other. My grandfather would then have to remind him about the presence of children around.

He was our family barber and the word ‘family’ actually included all of us – my father, my cousins, my brother, myself….. When we were young, Bhola was the Fairy God-father – deciphering every bit of our hair-cutting instructions.

“A bit short from here but not too short”.

“ Do you know how to cut an U-shape? It should be a perfect U” .

He would let out a divine smile and nod his head in affirmative. It was only much later, when we grew up enough, did we realize that all his hair-cuts –irrespective of our gender -resembled only one thing : an upturned bowl. Red-eyed protests, lunch-boycotts and nagging howls of crying could ultimately save us from Bhola’s scissors. But even after minor disasters like snipped ear, bloody cheeks and ill-matched side-burns, Bhola’s presence in our house and life continued unabated.

Somehow, the presence of these visitors were vital to our very existence. We wanted them, they wanted us. The feeling was mutual.

 And ‘The Wanted’…..

It was late night when my grandmother heard the muffled groan. For a change she was sleeping upstairs with my cousins, leaving my grandfather alone downstairs. She waited for a while, dismissing it to be an extension of her dream. And then she heard again. She woke up my cousins and rushed down stairs. As she put on the light she discovered two nervous men – equally scared and shivering. One was my grandfather, the other was a thief. And the muffled cry was actually my grandfather trying to raise an alarm. Only thing his ‘Thief, thief’ sounded like a mute call of a kitten from under a cushion! My grandmother, brave that she was, didn’t take much time to handle the situation. Within minutes the entire neighbourhood was at our door-step. Each of them wanted to try a hand or two on the poor thief – an easy channel to flush out middle-class frustration! It was then that my grand-father intervened. Holding the thief’s hands he nearly pleaded, “Promise me in the name of the good Lord that you will never steal again and I will let you free”.

The thief was definitely amused. He hadn’t probably ever expected such an easy way out. He promptly fell at my grandfather’s feet and pledged never to steal again. So, much to the annoyance of others, he was let free.

Either he chose an alternative profession or a different area of action – we wouldn’t know, but no one saw him again.

It was a strange thing that the thieves always found our house to be vantage point but it was stranger that they somehow were contemplated by stealing items ranging from soap cases to damaged buckets to non-functional radios.

I do not recall and remember whether the ‘come-hither-and-be-reformed ‘ policy worked for all of the ‘most wanted’ or not but it certainly did for some. When hard core thief Ratan decided to give up his ‘steady business’ and open an electrical shop, not many dared to call him home to avail of his services. But in our house, he was a constant fixture – fixing bulbs or repairing fans. My Dad was a brilliant repair man and I am sure they actually didn’t require Ratan’s services but well, that was the way they were….And perhaps that was the reason why my grandfather and grandmother were ‘Baba’ and ‘Ma’  to Ratan till his death. His sons now proudly sit in his shop ‘Ratan Electrical’ – earning a fairly decent living.

The smell of kerosene lamp, sound and people……

The circus is over. The tents have been wrapped tight and shoved up in the attic. The chief actors of the entire show have taken their final bow. My grandfather smiles from his framed existence. The book that my grandmother was reading till her last days still carries the smell of her hair oil. The God-men, I guess, have surely attained their salvation at last or maybe they have changed their route of travel.

And behind closed doors of my apartment I try to search for the lost sounds and smell. I keep my ears open just in case I hear the call of the chickpea gravy seller. I hallucinate about his kerosene lamp – the black trail of smoke from the dim lamp trailing off into the purple of the setting sun. The smell of his chickpea gravy submerging into that of fresh Saal leaf plates. “One for a rupee”, his voice booming from behind his alluminium pot….

I force my son to pay a ten rupee note to the Sadhu who comes every Sunday, playing the mandolin and singing folk-songs. I feel angry and hurt when my husband whispers, “ I saw him drinking cola and smoking an expensive cigarette the other day”.

I, for one, am not ready to accept that the circus is over.

And my mother continues to put in that ‘extra handful of rice-grains’ into her cooking pot, just in case……..

Quote Challenge- Day 2

Thanks a lot Kavya Janani , Nimz and Tejas Jani for nominating me in this challenge.

Frankly, to select among the vast sea of best quotes is perhaps the toughest but still…a challenge is a challenge is a challenge….

So there are three steps in this challenge:

1.Thank the blogger who nominated you for this challenge.

2.Post any three quotes for three days.

3.Nominate other bloggers at the end of each post.

Here goes my list of quotes for today:

POSTER 111LazyFunny Quote

Frankly I do not know many people as such, whom I can nominate. Nimz, Kavi, Tejas, NJ have already been nominated by someone or the other so my list for nominations remain unchanged: 1) Mahua Banerjee 2) Subhadip Mukherjee 3) Balakarthiga

Quote Challenge- Day 1

Thanks a lot Kavya Janani , Nimz and Tejas Jani for nominating me in this challenge.

Frankly, to select among the vast sea of best quotes is perhaps the toughest but still…a challenge is a challenge is a challenge….

So there are three steps in this challenge:

1.Thank the blogger who nominated you for this challenge.

2.Post any three quotes for three days.

3.Nominate other bloggers at the end of each post.

Here goes my list of quotes for today:

QuoteRumi-quoteInspirational-Dr.-Seuss-quote

And my nominations for Quoting the Quote are:

1. Mahua Banerjee 2.Balakarthiga 3.Subhadip Mukherjee

You may or may not take the challenge….and I still continue to love you…..

Our Family Circus – Part 1

pictuOur house had an open-door system. I never remember the front-door ever been closed; except in the night may be. And that meant a steady flow of visitors – from sellers to semi-permanent visitors to almost-permanent guests. As children our duty was to huddle in the front room and be a silent observer to the circus around us. We had to observe from the side-galleries with the utmost keenness, as colorful characters – each varied from the other played their part; skillfully displaying their talents in front of hungry pairs of eyes. They would gladly display their colorful selves and we would be satiated in our study of human nature.

The God-sent and the God-forsaken…..

Ours was a strange mad-house where eccentricities blended smoothly with serious philosophies. So while my grandmother and her sisters toasted themselves in the morning sun while discussing about religion, life and death, they also entertained Sadhus, Fakirs and Semi-God-men on their way to Himalayas with equal elan. In exchange of a few coins or even a handful of rice they soaked themselves in the ‘deep philosophical discourses’ imparted by these God-men, often interspersed with lavish blessings for the children, grand-children and many generations thereafter. These holy souls would often depart with a parting gift of a pinch of some ‘holy ash’ with the declaration that this was their final journey to the path of salvation, only to return the next year with the same philosophies and same declaration.

But one stand-out among those God-blessed souls was a woman named Kanak . More God-forsaken than any, she used to be a sudden visitor – mostly on Sundays. Her knowledge of The Bible was envious – ranging from discourses to explanations, she would marvel everyone till she would be ‘possessed’ by spirits. Happily sipping tea and bread, her eye-balls would suddenly pop out, tongues would roll in strange wavy motions and she would then speak in strange language only known to her. She had nearly convinced my grand-father into believing that Devil and his children reside in the electrical systems and wires and would have nearly pushed us into the dungeon of pre-historic, electricity-less existence, had she not thought of a solution herself. So up there, atop the electrical meter-box sat a piece of paper –supposedly carrying her house-cleansing, devil-protective prayer! It was only recently that we ‘dared’ to throw out that tattered piece of paper, quite convinced that the current load of sins and Devil’s equipments in the household were too many to be combated by the poor piece of paper!

Give-Me-Till-You-Are-Done….

With her hair bundled into a ping-pong ball sized bun, her once-white-now-grey  ‘widow uniform’ roughly draped she would sob in between sips. Her tears would merge with her tea sips as she would speak about the troubles and turmoil in the life of her Bablu – her only son. Who she was or how she was exactly related to us I really do not recall. But from grandparents to grandchildren, she had only one identity, one name : Bablu’s Maa.

Her visits were too-frequent  for comfort but her stories were myriad – all ranging around Bablu. Bablu, who was almost the same age as my father, was both the hero and the villain of her stories. Sometimes Bablu would be the mother-torturing monster, sometimes he would be the all-loving only begotten son of a widowed mother. At times the hero of the story would be terribly sick, almost ready-to-die unless medicines are given; at times he would be jobless. But the moral of every story was: Give me till you are done and frustrated!

No one would believe a word of her but would still hand out a note or two. Tying the money in the edge of her saree, she would leave with all humility and a promise to come soon.

But Bablu’s Maa and her Bablu-stories reached a crescendo when one day she came sobbing her heart out. She would neither take a drop of water nor have a sip from her favourite tea-cup. After much coaxing and cajoling, all she could mutter amidst sobs was that her beloved Bablu was no more. Shocked to silence, everyone was in tears as she narrated how she struggled to keep her son alive and how, with great difficulty, she had managed a decent funeral for him.

“Tch, you should have informed us. Atleast we could have gone for the last rites. ”, my grandfather spoke with genuine grief. The others nodded in agreement. And at the end of the day, she went back with bundles of notes and assurance of our assistance forever. Long after she was gone the elders sat reminiscing about how Bablu was as a child.

And things were about to turn emotional when my father returned from office.

“You won’t believe whom I met in the bus today? Bablu…”

“Bablu? Which Bablu?”

“Bablu of Bablu’s Ma fame…who else?”, my father shrugged his shoulders, unaware of the drama that had unfolded minutes ago.

I had expected a turmoil and a barrage of angry expressions but all there was – was astounded silence.

And if you think that was the last we saw of Bablu’s Ma, you are sadly mistaken. Unashamed, she appeared again after weeks, armed with her Bablu-stories till someone reminded her that her Bablu, as per her story, had already been a martyr. She blamed it on her ‘memory loss’ – for which she needed regular check-up and for which she didn’t have enough money. The end result was however that we continued the ‘Save Bablu and His Mom’ campaign till her death – only, no one ever wanted to hear her stories anymore!

She wasn’t the only one in the category. There was also this old grandmother who used to come armed with strange gifts for the family like sick kittens or soggy flowers picked up on the way.

And  then there was Asamma – who was an old-man wearing laced converse shoes with his dhoti, with a terrible shake of his head – almost resembling a vibrator. My grandfather would religiously hand him a two-rupee note for ten full years till he angrily refused one day.

“Don’t mind, but my bus fare one way to your house is now two rupees! Your two rupee notes have now become my return fare”.

My grandfather was both hurt and ashamed and promptly increased the amount the amount by a full one rupee!!

**** More to follow in my next post *******

Of Thorns and Flowers

One World

      Photo Courtesy: Subhadip Mukherjee

My son was excited about the new essay he wrote in his English class. Titled “The tomorrow I want to see”, he definitely felt important having been finally asked about ‘his’ opinion about his tomorrow!

“ So what did you write ?”, I was curious.

“ Oh, I wrote quite a lot…the type of things I expect, I want. But I loved my conclusion the best. I wrote that I finally look forward to a time when there won’t be any barrier between people in terms of religion, caste, language – nothing at all.  I look forward to a day when there will not be any fencing of barbed wire at the borders of nations, instead the people would together grow flowers of different colors”.

**   **   **   **   **   **

Those days the summer vacations would be long without the threat of examinations looming over our head. The afternoons would be hot and inevitably interspersed with periods of power-cuts. During those very hot afternoons when going out was forbidden till evening, I would lie down next to my grandmother, placing my leg gently over hers. She would fan me with a hand-fan, with a rhythmic movement of her hand, opening her huge collection of stories at the same time.  Her stories would mostly reach the blind alleys and grass-lands of Bangladesh where she had spent considerable part of her childhood. We would gape in wonder as she would animatedly describe the smell of the rivers, the red-hot curries prepared by the boatsmen at the river-ghats, the palm-sized pinkish white sweets at Charaibari and of the sweet prepared with garlic by her neighbor, Meherunissa.  And every story of hers would end in the dense grove of mangoes and berries where she had left her six month old dead sister – buried in a small cardboard box, under one of the trees. Strong that she was, she would never ever show emotions except a short pause and a sigh.

“ How I wish I could go and find out that grove where my sister is! If there wasn’t a war, there wasn’t a partition I would have gone and searched for my sister’s grave”. She would rue till her last days.

“But you still can, Mamma”, we would coax her.

We knew she wouldn’t answer. The no man’s land between the two nations was too traumatic for her to travel back to her land of childhood! She could never accept the fact that religion could be a premise of building different nations.

I don’t know if this was one of the causes, but she vehemently hated the fact that people’s choices, beliefs and identifications are done on the basis of their religion.

And it was not just her, time and again it has been equally challenging for me to explain that my religion has nothing to do with my identity.

“A Christian, are you? I don’t believe this! All the while I was thinking you were a Bengali!”

“ A Christian ? How come you do not have a Christian name ?”

Worse – “ Do you speak English at home? “.

How do I really explain that being a Christian does not make me ‘English’ (when Jesus Christ wasn’t an English-man himself!) ! And no, we do not drink wine every evening – infact, my family has been teetotalers for generations!  My mother has never, ever worn a gown and my father does not go to church wearing suit and tie!

When told that I would prepare special sweets for Bengali New Year’s Day , a surprised reaction was, “ But you all celebrate New Year on the 1st of January every year, don’t you ?”

I had a good mind to ask if her calendar dates actually begin with every Bengali New Year but merely clarified that ‘our’ New Years were same as ‘their’ New Years and the church service we do on the night of 31st December is a Thanksgiving Service for the year gone by!

It is exasperating at times to explain that I do not have any special feelings for the Queen of England, just because she shares my religion and Mother Teresa is my idol for the immense work that she has done and not merely because she was a Christian!

Most of my childhood was spent in an Ecumenical Centre in Bangalore where brass lamps, as seen in temples, adorned the little chapel and instead of the usual crucifix there was a beautiful picture of a Laughing Christ – not a smiling, calm one but one who has just shared a hearty joke with you. That helped me remove a lot of inhibitions about religion. It helped me grow up with the belief that religion is a matter of faith – your understanding with the supreme and is not a label for you. A faith is not about a set of rituals, it is about your belief in transforming your life according to some values that you feel are good for you!

When I grew up, I had a beautiful opportunity to attend a course and meet people from different parts of the world which changed my outlook forever.  I met Simon from Kenya who would dance and sing as he worshipped.  There I became friends with Noel who was a pastor from Phillippines and an avid mountaineer! His God was in the church, as well as up in the mountains! He introduced me to Khalil Gibran and helped me discover life through poems. Both Simon and Noel shared my faith and yet their ways were so different from mine! But at the dinner table when Noel and I both enjoyed our meals eating with our fingers rather than with the spoon and fork, I realized we come from different nations and yet we were so similar in our needs! And I felt how really restricted I was in my own thought process!

Right now, I have a group of writer friends, coming from exactly four different corners of the country and at times I am astounded by how they help me relook at life! We share nothing in common at all except our love for writing, books, movies and music perhaps…..But from Eid to Friday the 13th – they celebrate and wish for every other event.  They don’t just celebrate they also do not let their personal beliefs come in the way of human bonding!

In every stage of my life I’ve discovered bit by bit the mystery called Life and I’ve come to believe that the barbed wires are actually in our mind. We create nations for political gains; we build a pre-conceived identity for individuals we do not know, based on religious tags; we cherish in the false pride of being superior to others!

The other day a television programme showed an interesting news that there is this group of artists in rural Bengal who make hand-painted murals about the life of Hindu Gods and Godesses. They go from village to village carrying the murals and then present a show using the pictures, accompanied by folk-songs about the Hindu Gods and Godesses. But what is interesting about the whole thing is that – all the families who are involved in this art are Muslims by religion! What a profound piece of learning from a handful of so called illiterate people from rural interiors!

But even after all these lessons from life, am I myself completely free of prejudices? Why do I feel strange and not normal if I see a Hindu praying fervently at the church alter? Why do I get goggle-eyed when I find a Muslim with a perfect Bengali name?

I haven’t told this to my son yet but I soon will – that his vision of an ideal tomorrow is possible…..if only we ourselves take an effort to remove the thorns stuck to our souls. The flowers will automatically follow.

Till then my grandmother’s little sister will continue to rest under an unknown tree, in an obscure village, in a nation that is separated from ours by a no man’s land!