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She quickly reached for her pistol inside the bag and fired two blank shots in the air, along with it the loud slogans of “*Vande Mataram” echoing in the wind.
She gave a broad grin as she looked at her refection in the mirror. The occasion was *Dol Jatra and Pratibha had smeared *abir on her face. It was a perfect camouflage to accomplish her mission. A shiver ran down her spine, she was anxious as well as excited. The moment had finally arrived. A final look at the mirror, a quick review through the belongings in her bag and she was out of her house.
People had already started sprinkling colours on each other; everything around was imbued with laughter, merry making and myriads of colours. Pratibha started taking steady steps towards the *mela ground.
Every year, on the auspicious occasion of Dol Jatra, a mela took place. People from nearby towns and villages gather together from early morning to celebrate Dol. As Pratibha neared the mela ground, the smells of *jalebi, *kochuri, and the laughter of people wafted in the sky. For a few moments, she too got engrossed in the air of festivity, but soon recovered. Her task in hand had to be carried out successfully.
She entered the mela ground and started looking for a safe corner from where she could begin her work. After a quick and careful inspection, she found the perfect corner where she could start her work. She hurriedly took out the box from her bag and opened it to distribute its contents to the women and young girls in the mela.
The contents were plastic red bangles with the word ‘*Swaraj’ engraved in golden colour. Pratibha started distributing them as quickly as possible. Time was a big constraint. While distributing the bangles she purposely started chanting aloud “Swaraj !! Swaraj!! The women folk joined her enthusiastically and the whole sky seemed to reverberate with the sound. Soon the police would arrive. She had to complete her task without being caught. Once achieved, then her real assignment would begin…
The year was 1930 and the place was a small town located in undivided Bengal. Pratibha was quite bedazzled on her first visit to the secret quarters of the Comrades. They were a group of young men and women who were endeavouring to free their motherland from the shackles of the colonial rule. The British called them terrorists and dacoits, but for the natives they were Freedom Fighters. The group was led by the charismatic Noni Da. A teacher by profession, who vehemently felt the need to raise a voice against the injustices of the imperial rule. His ways were not passive tolerance but active armed revolution.
Pratibha’s induction into the group was not an easy task. Only the strongest were accepted into the group and the entrance exam was equal for all – catch a cock and cut its throat, and that too in a single attempt!! Pratibha’s first cousin Dinesh was already an eminent member of the Comrades and it was through his recommendation that Pratibha had got the opportunity to meet her hero Noni Da. And the rest, as she would proudly say, was history!
The distribution of bangles was over. The women were enthusiastic about getting bangles on the auspicious day of Dol Jatra. Pratibha felt confident as an important portion of her task was fulfilled… now the major one awaited.
She quickly reached for her pistol inside the bag and fired two blank shots in the air, along with it the loud slogans of “*Vande Mataram” echoing in the wind. Suddenly people were running helter-skelter everywhere. The police had intervened; some of them had noticed the bangles with the word Swaraj inscribed, and tried to take them off the women, hence there was resistance and total chaos. Lathi charge and fire shots created a cacophony.
Pratibha took full advantage of this pandemonium and got nearer to her target – Inspector Subir Chandra Das. She felt repulsed standing in close proximity to the man. This was the person who had initiated torture, rapes and killings of the poor village folks of Basirganj as they had given shelter to two members of the Comrades. Nirmal, one of the Comrades was shot and Suhasini was captured. She was subjected to gruesome torture and died due to injuries. But till her last breath Suhasini did not disclose the whereabouts of her inmates.
Before the inspector could comprehend or make any move, Pratibha held the pistol at point blank range and shot Subir on the forehead. A peculiar sense of satisfaction overcame her. She gave a loud cry of Vande Mataram and then like a chameleon merged with the crowd.
This was the genesis of Pratibha’s journey towards Swaraj. Her eyes twinkled with excitement and an anticipation of future…
*Dol Jatra- In Bengal and Odisha, Dol Purnima or Dol Jatra is a festival dedicated to Sri Krishna. (Celebrated elsewhere in the country as Holi.) On this auspicious day, an image of Krishna, richly adorned and besmeared with colored powder (Abir in Bengali), is taken out in procession, in a swinging palanquin, decorated with flowers, leaves, colored clothes and papers.
*Abir- coloured powder used during Dol Jatra
*Mela ground- fairground
*Jalebi- Spiral shaped Indian sweet
*Kochuri- a deep-fried wheat bread stuffed with spiced lentils, potato, or beans.
*Swaraj- “Self Rule” -Indian independence from foreign domination.
*Vande Mataram- pray to Motherland
Author’s note: This story short is based on the diary of my maternal grandmother (Dida) with fictional inputs.
Image source: Flickr, for representational purposes only