“At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will wake to life and freedom.”
The clock struck twelve. The people poured out onto the streets in thousands. They waved the tri-colour flag, blew on conch shells, beat the drums, danced and hugged each other. Some laughed, some wept. Everyone rejoiced. After what seemed like a lifetime of struggle, at last freedom was theirs. Momentarily everyone forgot the price at which freedom had come.
Everyone but Boshuda. In a tiny room in The Campbell Mental Asylum, in Karimganj, she sat clasping a tattered rag doll. She rocked the doll on her lap humming softly, “ghum parani mashi pishi….”
“We will have to leave tonight.” Bimalendu said as he hurried into the house. “Pack only the bare necessities. Take all your jewelleries in a purse tied close to your body.”
“Leave?” Boshuda repeated, not able to comprehend. “Why do we have to leave? And where are we going?”
“We will be going to Karimganj. We will leave at 8pm. It is just a journey of ten hours. We should be in Karimganj by 6 in the morning.”
“But why?” Boshuda was thoroughly perplexed. “We have visited my mama bari at Karimganj just six months back.”
“This time we are going for good.” Bimalendu replied even as he started packing. Then seeing the bewildered expression on his wife’s face, he explained. “The referendum has been done. Sylhet will be divided. Karimganj district will go to India while the rest of Sylhet will merge with Pakistan. We need to leave while we still have time.”
Bosudha did not argue with her husband. Though she had a thousand queries, she kept them to herself, trusting her husband’s decision. Bimalendu, Boshuda and their nine-year-old daughter Korobi left in a covered bullock cart driven by their faithful servant Gosai. To enquiries from curious neighbours, Boshuda said that they were visiting her mama at Karimganj, as news had reached her that he had taken seriously ill.
They travelled in near silence, each lost in his or her thought. Korobi fell asleep on Boshuda’s lap, as soon as the journey started, lulled by jaunty rhythm of the cart.
Then abruptly the cart stopped and Boshuda heard the voices of strangers.
“Where are you going? Running away, are you?” Angry voices demanded.
Bosudha heard Gosai’s loud cry for help. Bimalendu stepped out signalling Boshuda to stay quiet in the covered cart. But it was too late. Korobi woke up whimpering. The strangers entered the cart and dragged out mother and child. Bosudha clung to Korobi even as she pleaded with the men. Her pleas fell on deaf ears.
‘Ma, Ma” Korobi wailed and that was the last Boshuda saw of her before the men descended on Boshuda.
Bosudha continued with her lullaby immune to celebrations. The country was free. But could a mother ever be free of the guilt of not being able to keep her child safe?
Ghum parani mashi pishi (Bengali): a popular lullaby
Mama bari (Bengali): home of maternal uncle
Event sponsored by The Archaic House
Cover picture credit: Sharmita Roy
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