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“And then, you glided into my life. You know? I had always admired your guts, and wondered why I couldn’t muster up the courage to take initiatives.”
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Narayani Manapadam is one of the winners for the May 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. The juror for this month, Trisha Das commented, “An evocative story about a couple from different communities set during the Bangladesh war of independence. I liked the history. The characters could have been more rounded. ”
Payal entered the study room. Not long ago, books of Rabindranath Tagore and Karl Marx vied for her attention. But now, it was witnessing a revolution of a kind. Packets of biscuits, numbering around hundred, from Britannia, lay neatly arranged on a corner. Next to the stack was a table made up of teakwood. An ornate looking box lay on top of it. Payal had counted the money the previous evening.
Ten thousand Rupees. Not bad!
Her eyes darted around. The huge trunk had been covered by a towel. Some vests and sarees were strewn over it. Not a soul could have doubted that the ubiquitous looking rusted chest contained arms and ammunition.
The sound of footsteps made her turn towards the source. Arjun entered the room. Both were 2nd year students of Political Science at Rabindra Bharti University, and a common ideology had brought them closer.
“Dada will be coming anytime soon. Are the pistols ready?” he whispered.
Payal nodded. “I hope he doesn’t get caught. The security at the border has been enhanced.”
Arjun leaned against the wall. “If only baba could have helped us in raising money. Chi! I am so ashamed of myself.” He covered his face with his hands.
Payal stroked his shoulder. “Don’t worry about things which are not under your control. At least, I have you. That’s enough for me.”
Arjun sighed, “Cholo. Let me wait outside. Dada must be coming soon. And oh, before I forget. I have to go to my village next month. Ma has organised a Pujo. I can’t disobey her orders.”
Payal smiled. “I will wait for you.”
Arjun took her hands in his. “Do you believe we will win, Payal?”
“I am sure of that. Our revolution will not go in vain.”
“Don’t forget my parents are from East Bengal!”
“Ahh. Of course.”
“Tell me one thing, Arjun.”
“Why is this important to you? You are a dyed-in-the-wool boy from West Bengal.”
Arjun peered at Payal. “It’s because of you.”
“Yes. You…” His speech was interrupted by the honking of a car. “It must be dada.” Both of them rushed down the stairs.
“Baba. I am an adult. My decision is final.” For the first time in his life, Arjun made eye-contact with his father, the most-dreaded zamindar of the village.
The tall man twirled his moustache. As he spoke, his wife slithered to the kitchen. “Is it because of that wench?”
Arjun winced. Payal had been called worse before by his so-called respectable father. “My life doesn’t just revolve around her. Yes, I agree, she is an important part of my existence.”
“Existence?” his father laughed.
“What will you understand, baba? You spent your life hobnobbing with the British.” Arjun spat out the last word. “No, let me finish, baba. You have spoken a lot. It’s my turn to speak now.”
Arjun paused for a second. “Baba. Please. I beg you. Try to step off that pedestal of yours and see my point of view. I like change, I like risk and unpredictability. I don’t want to feel safe and comfortable all the time. I don’t want someone who simply loves and accepts me the way I am. I want someone who pushes me, challenges me, calls me out. Someone who excites my mind as well as my body. Someone fearless and fiery.”
“And someone who has no qualms about sleeping with you!” his father smirked.
Arjun shook his head. “You just had to catch on to the word body, right? Ok. Let me make it clear. We love each other. However, exciting my body doesn’t just mean in a sexual way. Do you experience the rush of adrenaline when you do something noteworthy? No. You wouldn’t.”
The zamindar sat down on the reclining chair. “Anusuya is ready to marry you. Despite the fact that you got mixed up with those lowly animals. And you? What do you do? Reject her. For whom? For that girl! Don’t you realise you are putting your life in danger?”
“Baba. There should be someone in our family who sets things straight.”
“I did it for my family.”
“You mean, your status, right?”
A pregnant silence ensued. Arjun cleared his throat. “Refugees are coming in streams from East Pakistan. You should accompany me one day, and listen to their horrific tales. The atrocities committed by the West Pakistan army is something I cannot describe in words. They need help. You know, baba, so many young people have joined the Mukti Bahini. Some of them have not yet stepped out of their teens. Yet, they are fighting for liberation. It’s my duty to provide them help and support. Nothing can stop me.”
“That girl will be the cause of your death,” his father hollered.
“So be it, baba. At least I will die for a cause.”
With that, Arjun bent down, touched his father’s feet, brought his right hand to his forehead in reverence, and left the house.
His mother’s cries of lament reverberated in the palatial mansion, as he boarded a cycle-rickshaw and headed to the railway station.
Payal clapped her hands in glee. Bangladesh had been born – out of tears, blood, and sacrifices of countless people. Arjun looked at her, tears welling up in his eyes.
“Hey! You are crying! Come on, you are a man,” said Payal.
Arjun took out a handkerchief from his pocket. “So what? Who said men cannot cry? I am just getting emotional, that’s all.” He wiped his eyes with the white piece of cloth.
Payal hugged him. Not a word was spoken. Arjun ran his hand over her hair.
“Payal. Don’t you feel sad that our names won’t be etched in history?”
“No. I know I could contribute something to the revolution, but we are just drops in the ocean. Why? Do you feel bad about it?”
Arjun shook his head. “Not anymore. I have you.”
Payal looked up. Arjun continued, “I had always felt I didn’t have a purpose in life. And then, you glided into my life. You know? I had always admired your guts, and wondered why I couldn’t muster up the courage to take initiatives.”
“And yet, you didn’t feel ashamed about it?”
“The fact that I am a woman.”
“Never. In fact, I am proud of it. I grew up in a family where my father had betrayed his own countrymen, and then had the audacity to live here, spreading terror amongst the villagers. The passion with which you gathered support for the revolution drew me to you. I decided to join your group. At least, I had something meaningful to achieve in my life. Of course, that meant I could spend more time with you.”
The radio started to play the anthem of the new country. The strains of Amar Sonar Bangla wafted in, across the room. Payal drew Arjun towards him, and they kissed passionately.
Dada – Bengali word for elder brother, or a friend older in age
Chi – Exclamation of exasperation, out of disgust, shame
Mukti Bahini – Liberation Army
Amar Sonar Bangla – My Golden Bengal, composed by Tagore, and National Anthem of Bangladesh
Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Trisha Das, who is the author of Kama’s Last Sutra, Ms Draupadi Kuru: After the Pandavas, The Mahabharata Re-imagined, The Art of the Television Interview and the internationally acclaimed How to write a Documentary Script. Trisha has written columns and short stories for Magical Women (Hachette India, 2019) and publications like Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Grazia India, Hindustan Times and Scroll. In her film-making career, Trisha has directed over 40 documentaries. She’s won an Indian National Film Award (2005) and was UGA’s International Artist of the year.
The cue is from her latest book The Misters Kuru: Return to the Mahabharata, which is a much awaited sequel to Ms Draupadi Kuru.
“Try to step off that pedestal of yours and see my point of view. I like change. I like risk and unpredictability. I don’t want to feel safe and comfortable all the time. I don’t want someone who simply loves and accepts me the way I am. I want someone who pushes me, challenges me, calls me out. Someone who excites my mind as well as my body. Someone fearless and fiery.“
Image source: a still from the Mrinal ki Chitthi from Tagore Stories
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