Dr. Dhrubajyoti Bora
As Koleekhuriheld my meaty hands in between her bony, feeble hands, I could feel that her whole body was quivering with excitement and amazement at my sudden visit to her house. I could see the same eagerness, same affection in those black eyes that had enthralled little me about forty years back. Faces change, but not the eyes. Perhaps her name was a misnomer as because in those days, her cheeks used to blush with a crimson tinge under her sweet fairness.She was a gracious, affectionate, pious young lady. But now, as I understood and thought, those days had passed, time had changed everything. Now her face had lost that gloss, and her flesh had receded to her skeleton.
Yes!-Almost forty years had passed. When I was a little kid, I used to come to this place during the summer or winter vacations with my parents. Lush green trees, dusty windy village roads, far stretched paddy fields, the sweet taste of different fruits, the Naga hills standing proudly with its high peaks, small rivulets streaming down the hills- all these were the best sources to explore our childhood wildness.Khuriwas not our blood relative, but she was so dear to us! We actually came to one of my maternal aunt’s house. But Prafulla, my aunt’s son, and I passed most of our time here in this house.Jintu was khuri’s only son and he was our beloved partner.
Khuri’s clasping hand ultimately slackened. She asked us to sit down and then entered the kitchen.
Hari, my driver, also sat down on one dilapidated chair withits squeaky legs.A low power bulb was hanging midway from the roof, its dim illumination added to the ages of the atmosphere inside. Stripes of peeled-off clay walls, cobwebs gathering over the corners of the roof and attic,a dust-gathered old Krishna photo,a bed with its frayed cover, a half broken small vase with tainted flower petals on a small wooden stool- all gave me a clear indication of the hardship that khurihad undergone through all these years.
I came out. Hari followed me. Somewhere, a child’s voice reciting his lesson came wafting along with acool breeze.Moonbeams slanted through the tall betel nut trees to the front yard.I remembered those old days when so many neighbours gathered here and gossiped the entire evening.Nowhere was so much loneliness, so much emptiness! Now there was only a gloomy silence under the silvery sheet of the moonlight.
After passing my high school, I went to Guwahati and then to Delhi for my higher studies.After a few months of graduation, I managed to get a government job and then got stepwise promotions within a few years and at last, I occupied a higher post in my department.During all these years, I was only busy with my job and my family. Koleekhuri, Putulkhura and Jintu became some vague existence of my past world;and those peaks of Naga hills, village roads,etc gradually faded from my memory.
Meanwhile, one day, I got to know that Jintu’s bullet-riddled lifeless body was discovered in one of the dense forest of Arunachal after a fierce encounter with the Army. Jintu had joined an insurgent group a few years earlier. Putulkhura couldn’t bear the grief of losing his only son and after about six months, he too passed away.At that time, I didn’t feel the urge or conscience to visit khuri. I was so egoistic and snobbish withmy accumulated wealth that I had forgotten the very fact that I, too once, had lived a life under the leaky thatched roof through which rain waters droppedon the earthenfloor.Actually I had metamorphosed into someone else.
A few days ago, when I was flipping through the TV channels, suddenly I had to stop at one particular channel.A scene was repeatedly being televised, showing one of mycolleagues from the adjacent district, being escorted by the police – handcuffed, his face downcast, and with the news anchor proclaiming… “‘This is UttamBaruah, the corrupt official arrested in the multi-crore government scam.”The news of the arrest of UttamBarua made my whole worldquiver. I was also in the same boat brother, now what would happen to me?
Khuricalled us inside. She placed two cups of black tea and a plate with two pieces of biscuits on the table, and said,”Bapukon, I have nothing more for you today.”
“It’s okay,khuri,” I said.
“How do you manage your expenditure,khuri?” I asked.
She sighed and then said, ”Bapukon, you have already seen the poverty that I am accustomed to.One of my neighbours’ boy comes, he takes my vegetables, betel nuts and leaves to the Sunday bazaar, sells them and gives me the money keeping a little with him.”
“Is it sufficient khuri?” Actually I tried to come to the point.
“You have seen my condition. But for a lonely widow like me, I don’t need much money…”
“I can help you khuri,” somehow I gathered some semblance of courage.
This time,khuriwas puzzled, “How, I m..mm..e.. an h..o..w?” Khuristammered.
I winkedat Hari and he got my hint. At once, he brought a bag from my car. I unzipped the bag slowly…bundles of currency notesgleamed through the opening even under the poor illumination.
“So much money!” she exclaimed!
I said, “Don’t worry khuri, keep it for yourself.Use it,spend it.If you can’t spend the whole stuff, at least keep it with you.”
Suddenly Khuri stood up. Her face suddenly got infused with a gush of blood and her voice became loud, “Oh now I see! That’s why you remembered me?’ She grumbled, “You people have destroyed our country. For you people only, Jintu had to goto the forest.” Her voice rose in a crescendo.
I felt nervous. And so was Hari. I was at a loss for words.
She went on,”I didn’t expect such a thing from you,Bapukon. You have insulted me. You shouldn’t have come.” Then her voice broke down. “Jintu…Oh, my Jintu… where are you? Why have you left me?”
I felt as if Jintu’s soul would suddenly come down from the heavens.The whole ambience suddenly changed. Khuristarted wailing and shrilling.I stood up. Hari picked up the bag. We moved out of the house. I entered into the car. Hari ignited the engine and the car took momentum.
Gradually khuri’s crying became indistinct.Hari’s eyes were fixed at the bumpy roadahead and his hand tightened on the steering wheel. No one uttered a single word.
And I understood, perhaps, this would be my last visit to this place.