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Her family had left Bangladesh during the war. All their old acquaintances were lost. She had no clue what happened to them or where they were.
“Ma, is Tangail close to Dhaka?” Professor Avinash asked while tying his shoe laces.
Kumud was packing his tiffin box. She looked up. “Yes, why do you ask?”
Avinash straightened and grinned wildly. “I have been selected to attend a seminar in Dhaka. Would you like to come with me?”
Kumud gripped the chair to steady herself.
It’s been 50 years since she left her birthplace. Kumud had lost all hope of revisiting Tangail, the city where she spent the first 15 years of her life. And now, suddenly…
“Avi, are you serious? Will you really…?” Kumud muttered incoherently.
Avinash nodded. “Yes ma. The seminar will last for 3 days. I have requested our college authority to book our return tickets on the fifth day. So that will give us one day to explore Tangail. You have told me so many stories about the city that I am dying to see it.”
Kumud stood outside the airport basking in the warmth of the afternoon sun. It felt like home coming. The sky, the trees, the people around her, the ground where she was standing – everything seemed to be a part of her. Tangail was far yet she felt as if she had come a whole lot closer to it.
She stayed cooped up inside the hotel for three days. Avinash left early and returned late. There was no scope of going out and Avi had strictly forbidden his mother from venturing out alone.
But true to his word, Avi hailed a cab on the fourth day and started for Tangail with his mother seated comfortably besides him. As they neared the city, Kumud felt a strange adrenaline rush. At 65, she felt like a 15 year old. Effervescent, inquisitive and full of life!
Everywhere her eyes went, she saw people and rows of buildings interspersed with few trees in between. Cars honked, hawkers shouted while men in white caps and women clad in burkha went about their work.
“Ma?” Avi leaned forward. “Can you locate the house? I mean… I am not sure if it still exists…but we can at least search.”
Kumud’s heart sank. Her family had left Bangladesh during the war. All their old acquaintances were lost. She had no clue what happened to them or where they were. Though they had made a new life in Kolkata, where she finished her education and finally got married, her heart still yearned for her roots.
“Avi, there was a park. I… don’t remember the name. There were trees, a lot of them, flowers..”
“Are you talking about the ‘Tangail Poura Uddan’ park Apa?” asked the driver. “Look, it’s on our right.”
Kumud gaped as she followed his pointed finger. There was no doubt that it was the same park that was etched in her memory but it looked so different from the spacious green land she remembered. It was now thronged with people and there were hardly any benches available to sit.
“Beta, please take the next lane. Our house was the fourth one from the left.” Kumud instructed the driver.
The cab turned into the alley and stopped right in front of the fourth house.
“No, no. This is not my house,” cried Kumud. “It was a white building and had long green windows. This one has small black ones.”
“Let me check Ma.” Avi stepped down. He came back almost immediately. “Ma, please come.”
Avi dragged his mother excitedly towards the small house wedged between two big buildings.
“My home!” Kumud whispered. The narrow path which led to the door was once filled with pebbles. They looked clean now with shrubs adorning both the sides. The long verandah was still the same. She pictured Baba sitting in his rocking chair with a cup of tea in his hand, his nose buried inside the newspaper. Ma instructing the gardener from the first floor balcony while she hung her wet saree on the clothesline. A faint chant followed by the ringing of bells floated from inside which meant that thammi was still sitting in front of the deity.
Kumud started to open the gate when she heard a dog barking from inside. Startled, she paused and read the nameplate. Her eyes filled with tears. This house belonged to someone else!
As she retraced her steps, she remembered something. Kumud started walking and finally came to a halt in front of the last house in the alley. It looked exactly the same as she had last seen it.
With trembling hands, she pressed the doorbell. After ten minutes or so, a man in a wheelchair opened the door. He looked around 80 and peered at her through a set of thick glasses.
“Abdul bhaijaan!” Kumud fell sobbing at his feet.
The old man’s rheumy eyes widened with shock. “Kumud? Is that you?”
Behind them, Avinash gasped. He had heard the story from his mother innumerable times.
It was 1971 and Bangladesh was at war with Pakistan. The people who had lived together for centuries had now turned into bitter enemies. There was riot and chaos everywhere. Kumud’s father had already decided to leave for India. They were busy packing for the journey when 15 year old Kumud slipped out into the alley and then into Abdul’s house.
Abdul Rehman was like an older brother to her. It was he who had taught her to play chess, cook mutton biriyani and occasionally helped her with sums. She couldn’t leave without bidding him goodbye.
It was Abdul who spotted the mob first. Dragging her inside, he quickly pushed her underneath his mother’s huge four poster bed and instructed,
“Stay quiet. Don’t come out until and unless I ask you to!”
He had left to face the angry group of men. Since they belonged to the same community, he was confident that he would be able to fend them off. And sure enough, he did! It was nearly dawn when Abdul handed her safely back to her father.
That was the last time they saw each other!
“I live here alone Kumud,” Abdul said. “I never married. After you left, I decided to serve my country and hence joined the army. As you can see now, I am enjoying a retired life. Ha ha!”
Kumud could hear the pain behind his laughter. Even after all these years, it gave her nightmares when she imagined what would have happened to her if Abdul hadn’t hid her.
Wiping her tears she said, “Bhaijaan, you saved me once. It’s my turn now. Please allow me to do my duty.”
Avi finished the rest of her sentence. “Yes Ma is right. Please come with us. I won’t leave you here!”
Abdul looked at the mother son duo, and thought that life had indeed come a full circle for him!
Image source: a still from Tagore Stories
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