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Gautam Maitra


Gautam Maitra : ‘Varsha’s Encounter ...’





How poignant and shaking it would be for one when faced with seminal and startling revelations about oneself... Ed.

The gust of wind tugged at her hair and while she pushed away the strands whipping against her eyes, the bunch of papers loosened from her grasp and flew like pigeons – first a few of them circled high in the wind and raced towards the row-houses across the lane. “Isssssss”, a controlled shriek came out of her dry lips. Her anxious look followed the papers that took different routes with the inertia of life. A gulp of air locked in her throat as she watched, heart throbbing faster in anticipated danger of those letters falling into wrong hands. Every word inside those flying papers sometimes speaks; sometimes sings a different tune about a lost world to Varsha. She yearned to reach out into the pages – but she didn’t know if there was life beyond death. Evening was fast throwing its mystic blanket - noises of clouds and a smell of fast approaching shower. The papers circling in the wind soon disappeared. 

She prayed, “Ma Kali! Please help Ma! Please protect me.”

Light shower started. Amidst the storm, Varsha hurriedly came out of her house and tried to open the umbrella. But gusty wind was too rowdy to tame. She ran into the lanes looking everywhere for those lost papers. One or two neighbour’s windows opened up, houses were lighting up one by one. She, fully drenched in rain, searched all the nearby lanes. She returned exhausted with a sense of loss, lay on her bed, gasping for danger looming large.

She tried to be calm and to recollect what was written in those pages. She had read those pages, oh so often, in her room’s privacy. No one but she knew what was in those pages. Varsha had found it by chance while searching the drawer. First time she read that bunch of papers, she cried. Today also she carried these to the terrace to re-read. Now Varsha switched on the dad’s diary in her memory. 

It ran thus:

I don’t know how long I shall keep the truth away from her. Life is so smooth and beautiful. My Varsha Ma is so tender I don’t know whether she will ever be able to stand this shock. And if she demands why I have told none in the family, I will have no answer. I am jealous of the love I receive from them all and at this old age I don’t want to miss that again, as I missed once in the early years of life when Asha came to my life.

We had a fairly happy life like any other young couple. We used to gossip, go to movies. Kashmir was really paradise for us– Life was a party with my new job... [Here dad wrote a poem in his own Bengali] Kashmiri Aloo-dam, Kashmiri Shawl, nevertheless Kashmiri heart is the best… Abdul Shaikh, my Office Clerk was a lovely man. He used to visit our home in the night with his wife Natasha Bibi and a sweet one year old daughter Farah... [Wrote a few paras about life]

One black Friday the riot broke out. Abdul came in the night and prayed, Saab! Mahal bahut bigar giya Aap Bhabiji ko leke eha jaida din moth rahiye.” But I laughed at his suggestion...

Varsha moved forward the pages and came to halt at:

Riot ultimately broke out in Srinagar... My darling Asha was raped, killed and thrown in the Dal by those Pakistani mercenaries. [A tragic poem on Asha].

I returned from Asha’s funeral, and got the bad news - Abdul and Natasha were injured in cross-firing while fleeing. Natasha died on the spot and Abdul was battling for life in the hospital. I went to see Abdul lying with oxygen mask. Doctors had given up hope. Little Farha was crying, sitting alone in a corner – too small to know the enormity of the tragedy. Here was a father lying on bed to breathe his last with none to take care of the innocent child. I couldn’t control my tears and in a sweep took Farha into my arms and told Abdul to allow me to adopt her. Abdul couldn’t speak but his eyes brightened up in gratitude, a thin smile appeared on the quivering lips... 

Varsha moved forward the pages and came to halt at:

I am at Kolkata. I have a new family. I don’t want to tell Varsha Ma that she is not my blood relation. I don’t know why people talk so much about blood relation. But, I am anxious if Varsha Ma leaves me in anger, will I be able to bear that shock.

Page halted as Varsha heard footsteps on their doorway. Must be her mother and younger sister Sonali returning from relative’s home, she sensed.

Sonali banged the door and saw Varsha sitting in the dark room. 

“What happened to you, Didi? Why sitting in the dark.” 

Sonali reached the switch and lighted up the room. In the glare of the light, the reality approached Varsha – what if those papers fell into anyone else’s hands? Or if her Mum or Sonali could sense that she was a Muslim?

In the midnight when Kolkata was asleep, Varsha sat on her laptop and began keying an article on her blog:

Daughter’s Diary:

From: Farha Shaikh
To: Nirmal Chowdhury,
Address: This Unknown Universe

 Dad, I now know how much you suffered keeping the truth away from us till the end. But now, knowing it, I can’t help crying. Dad I miss you. I do not know death does take away everything. But I can feel you, dad, wherever I go I feel so secure with your blessings. A Muslim blood with a Hindu soul. I am not a Kashmiri Muslim dad! I am Hindu - without your love and caring my presence on earth is inappropriate. Wish I be that fortunate next life to get you as Dad again.

--xxx--

Varsha was crying.


END

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