Short story selected for the 2013 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology
The morning sun has just dawned upon the mother earth. The sunrise has started casting splendid splashes of fiery opalescence across the sky. The periwinkle sky is thus to be seen out of the eerie darkness and the night stars which have just stopped their twinkling. Hari is about to be set in for the first Naighati local for Sealdah. He happens to be one of the millions of hawkers in this local train which makes his inglenook burning. Hari Ram Ghosh is the full name of Hari (the erstwhile union leader of Naihati Hawkers Corner) christened lovingly by his late Grandfather Dhirendra Nath Ghosh, whom he adorned most till his day one in his school. His mother and father died while Hari was still young and the only patronage and pampering he received till his 7-8 initial years was through his Grandfather and Grandmother who together took all the pains to shower affection on him. Hari’s Grandmother Kamal Kamini Devi is still alive and kicking at an age of 72 and pampering Hari in all possible ways till today; her ill-fated grandson. Hari is a lad of 20-years-age who could hardly manage to pass his 10th standard owing to their impoverished family conditions. Whatever left by his late grandfather was at its lowest ebb, compelling Hari and Kamal Kamini Devi to reach at the brink of a hand-to-mouth condition. Hari had hardly any professional options except to hawk.
While taking the first splash of morning bath, he could still nicely remember the first day of his toiling profession. In the train he could feel easily the heart pounding against the ribs out of nervousness. His throat was about to be stifled on account of the impromptu practice to attract public. He had taken a bag full of lozenges to vend. Hari could find more than fifty professionally composed eloquent competitors in the train compartment, it was a dog eats dog’s market. The scorching sun of May with the high pitched cacophony of daily commuters, untoward jostling of marauding crowds and the hurly-burly all together could culminate in a set of unimagined hindrances making Hari nervous, jittery and flabbergasted.
At the end of one full day of hardship, he could manage to sell only 20-30 lozenge pieces. He could not fetch a hand-full of joy for his grandmother. While returning home Hari could find her grandmother weeping aloud cursing her destiny for this sorry state of hers and her grandson. Her surging tear drops failed to roll down her wrinkled cheeks literally she could not control her sobs but wept till midnight. Her only son Parasuram and daughter-in-law Bimala had lost their lives together in a train accident when they were travelling for a medical check-up for Bimala who was shivering from excruciating pain in the lower abdomen for several years. Kamal Kamini Devi could jolly well remember that ill-fated day of her son’s journey. Now she could only chide upon herself haplessly unable to console her bereaved sole.
“Hari! Dear son! Have your dinner first and finish your work later!” Kamal Kamini started screaming.
Being gravely concerned for her grandson Kamalkamini was unable to control her emotions.
“Wait a second amma! Let me finish off my pending accounts for the last 2 days”.
“Whole day you don’t feed yourself properly! Why to get late?” slowly she raises her voice.
These scorching summer days are taking heavy tolls on Kamal Kamini’s health. She is about to reach her eighties. This septuagenarian lady has to manage all the household affairs by herself setting at naught all the agony and concerns for her grandson’s well being.
“When Almighty would shower all his blessings upon Hari?” she soliloquies herself. Would she be able to leave for the ultimate abode of peace hassle free? This tormenting question haunts the back of her mind. Whatever virtues she has amassed in her life time, she want it to get carried over to Hari’s destiny.
But in this abject poverty, ill luck and hassles are the only gifts that were present throughout the life span of Kamal Kamini’s. She was the 3rd daughter amongst the 8 siblings of his father Sudhindranath, a vey well-to-do jamindar (landlord) of Khustia town (of the Rajshahi District of the then united India, now in Bangladesh) where before 1947 she led a happy childhood. But tragedy soon started to usurp with its bleak consequences like a sudden thud around the year 1942 when colonial clashes between the Hindu and Muslim peasants of Rajshai District started in, setting the daily life wallowing. Kamal Kamini’s father, one of the august minds of the town, soon conjured up the fatal consequences coming up next as a result of communal clashes and reaffirmed his determination to migrate to Calcutta with his family to be on the safe side. He had to abandon all his wealth, land and heir there in Khustia town within a fortnight to immigrate at Calcutta where he took shelter in a dingy house in the serpentine lane opposite Sealdah with eight hungry tummies. Sudhindranath managed to secure a job of a cashier of a small export firm house near Shyamnagar Jute Mill and soon shifted to Shyamnagar with his whole family. Kamal Kamini could nicely remember those days in Shyamnagar. His father used to set out early in the morning leaving her mother as caretaker of his siblings in home. Days were not easy, rather tough to meet both ends meet with one person’s meagre salary. The untimely death of one of the brother’s of Kamal Kamini came as a big shock and matter of bereavement for the whole family. But this death is soon after followed by the gory death of Kamal Kamini’s mother Bibhabari Devi in few days of ailment coupled with a cardiac arrest. Sudhindranath came in a fix and decided lately to marry off his daughters who have become literally orphans, one after another in turn. Soon alliances for marriage started coming in from all corners as all the 3 sisters were bestowed with pretty looks especially Kamal Kamini. Within a year Kamal Kamini’s wedlock was fixed with Dhirendranath Ghosh, the handsome lad of the same community of east Bengal, who also took the shelter in Naihati as migrants after the partition of Bangladesh in 1947.
After marriage with Dhirendranath Ghosh, a new eventful but baffling journey started in the new in-laws house for Kamal Kamini. She was compelled to start balancing between rigmaroles. Situations sometimes went awry with leakage and pilferage owing to lack of funds. Soon Dhirendranath shifted to the nearby outskirts of Naihati, a busy town of North 24 Pargana District of West Bengal. Initial hardships followed by and life sailed as usual. Dhirendranath by now could start earning handsomely to upkeep his family with utmost comforts. Kamal Kamini also gifted Dhirendranath with their only son Parasuram and Daughter Durga. But this time also Kamal Kamini’s fate fetched for her an untimely death of her only daughter Durga. At a very tender age of 3 years only Durga left for the abode of peace after struggling for a month because of typhoid. Again Kamal Kamini was wretched and bear the bruises in her heart silently after losing Durga. Dhirendranath was a hard worker and tried to do all the requisites to meet both ends meet for his family. Kamal Kamini, an adroit housewife, tried to manage all the household chores alone ambidextrously to give Dhirendranath the utmost family pleasure within this small world.
Years passed by and Parasuram also grew up and started to go to college. But the hither and thither of life kept pending so many puzzles affront to ravage innocent Kamal Kamini. The year in which Parasuram was about to become graduate proved difficult for him. The shock came as bolt from the blue when returning from an official tour Dhriendranath could not hear the good news of Parasuram’s pass out news after a dangerous train accident snatched him away from Kamal Kamini. The only earning member of the family was no more. Kamal Kamini moaned with excruciating pain inside but could not even weep in this big topsy-turvy. Parasuram now had to bear the torch of the family and soon could manage a job as a gate-keeper in Naihati Jute Mill. The treacherous hours of shifting duties especially at the wee hours of night started taking a heavy toll on Parasuram’s health. Kamal Kamini amassed whatever little was left over by Dhrirendranath in bank to arrange Parasuram’s weeding with Bimala. Bimala was a shy, cute, village girl of nearby Kanagarh village of Hoogly District. She hailed from a very poor family of seven brother and sisters. Bimala’s father could not fetch proper keep for all his siblings and could manage a sigh of relief after getting Parasuram as Son-in-law. Within a year, Hari came to Bimala’s lap and soon Hari became the apple in Kamal Kamini’s eye. She showered all her affection, love, care and well wishes to Hari as he looked alike of Dhirendranath in all possible way. Kamal Kamini seemed to get back Dhirendranath in guise of Hari. Bimala’s health started deteriorating drastically after Hari’s brith along with Parasuram. The local doctor advised Parasuram to set out for Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital with possible suspicion of liver cancer of Bimala. Parasuram had to accompany Bimala for this treatment period and Kamal Kamini decided to stay back at home to look after Hari.
On the very day of Bimala’s set out for Mumbai a stranglehold became prominent for Kamal Kamini as different ill-thoughts started pouring in her mind in apprehension of fear. But she kept mum. What next if Bimala could not come back alive literally haunted her? Within a lifespan of 40 years, Kamal Kamini has had so many untimely deaths in front of her eye and was it now Bimala’s turn? This gruelling questing now already had been whispered by the impecunious neighbours of Kamal Kamini’s locality. Within a day Kamal Kamini heard the news around where some unidentified insurgents had attacked the train in which Bimala and Parasuram had set out for Mumbai and gunned down 40 innocent lives there. Radio news aired that among the victims Bimala and Parasuram were there who could not escape the bullets. After 7 days, the corpses of Parasuram and Bimala were sent to the Naihaiti house. All the neighbours, Hari and Kamal Kamini has spent sleepless nights for this span of 7 days and stood aghast in this shock. Hari, a student of 8th standard could not finish off the last gulp of rice while seeing the dead bodies of his beloved parents, aftermath of this dastard homicide.
While taking the morning bath Hari recollected the sweet memories of his childhood days. Born in an underprivileged family he used to be the best swimmer among the other boys of his age in the locality. He used to be a courageous boy who tried to overrule the high tides of river Ganges in the “Bhara Kotal” during the full-moon days. He had the passionate dream of becoming a swimmer and to carry away all medals for his district and pride for his family. But the untimely death of his parents threw this long cherished dream at bay.
Hari had to rush out to catch the train and Kamal Kamini brought some dry chapatis of last night with little left over curry and a pot-full of cold water as breakfast. In a big hurry Hari somehow could finish off the breakfast and hugged his beloved grandmother with a soft kiss on her forehead. He gazed at his grandmother with a quixotic look. Her pale wane face looked verily tired and distinguishingly murky.
“Don’t worry Granny! Everything will be okay one day!” told Hari.
“Okay! Get back soon! Dugga Dugga! whispered Kamal Kamini.
It was around 6.00 am. The daily recital of hymns in the nearby temples and the ‘azaan’ in the mosques had just started with the daily hustle – bustle of the morning market which too started off with full swing. Hari trotted hastily as time was ticking by fast. Just after crossing the dingy lane of the local market Hari followed the detour, crossing the railway tracks to reach the platform, high up. He heard the shrill whistles of passing trains in the 3-lane tracks. Suddenly he could trace out a boy in hand full of two bags of vegetable and a small basket on head walking down the opposite rail track slowly. Hari could see the speedily approaching local train from back toward the up platform. Hari could feel a chill down his spine. The boy must be saved anyway. In a sudden bout, Hari threw his bag and started running, shouting and screaming to save the boy. But the slowly moving boy could not hear his sound because of the train’s whistle. Hari reprimanded himself for not looking at the boy earlier otherwise he could have asked any other passersby to help and save the boy. He could see the local train rushing forward at a monstrous speed, towards them. Already Hari had crossed the other two railway tracks and came within a few feet of the boy. Why is he not able to listen to his shout or the train’s whistle? By this time Hari had paced up before he could catch hold of the boy’s arm, he tripped on his feet and fell. He somehow managed to touch the boy’s feet to push him aside from the track but could not escape himself from the banging train. The whole world seemed blurred to him and he lost consciousness.
Two days later he got back his consciousness though extremely feeble and with excruciating pain on his left hand while laid down on hospital bed. The boy whom he saved was standing beside him along with his Grandmother Kamal Kamini who also was weeping loudly. Hari could sense heavy bandage on both of his arms. He could sense a sense of lightness below his right elbow and soon realized that his left hand had been amputated. The world seemed to be a total mess and had gone awry for Hari. How could he survive and revert back to life? A sense of helplessness and aghast succumbed his mind heavily. All his friends were spellbound with this sudden bereavement and they could not believe that Hari had lost his hand, the only bread earner of this poor family. Soon he realized that the little boy whom he saved is dumb and could speak in inaudible voice and sign languages. He could spell his name Kanai. Kanai happened to be an orphan and used to supply vegetables to the local Railway Hawkers Market as a daily wage worker. He lived in the railway platform with other vagabond orphan street children. He was also weeping heavily and cursing himself of being solely responsible for Hari’s ill fate.
After three days, Hari got released from the hospital and returned home with Kanai. They were now reduced to three members. Whatever stashed away money was kept hidden by Kamal Kamini had been all spent within these seven days after accident. Hari was in deep thought of how to meet the both ends in this hand to mouth family condition. In this grave situation with one hand amputated it had been really tough for Hari to look after himself properly. He now needed a whole-time caretaker to reach out to all his demands. Kamal Kamini asked Kanai to stay back with them as he had no other place to thrive and look after Hari. Kanai jolly well agreed to take all care of Hari throughout the day. He started to nurse Hari by taking him to bath, feeding and enamoured him in all possible way. Days passed by and together Hari, Kanai and Kamal Kamini picked up the broken pieces of joy to make a fresh start of their lives journey. Kanai affirmed Hari that next day onwards he would go together with Hari to help him to hawk in train and he would accompany Hari the whole life to sell lozenges. Hari got overwhelmed with Kanai’s proposition and could not control his sobs. He by now have stopped cursing God and started thanking him wholeheartedly for giving two other strong hands in lieu of taking his left hand. With two strong hands of Kanai and one of his own Hari is now ready to bear the brunt of perilous and parlous conditions of daily harsh life steadily. Hari thanked God again and again.
In the recent train-disaster in Spain, it is not known whether any magnanimous soul had saved a life or not, yet, Kanai’s loving concern for Hari remained as a source of inspiration for all, who knew him or heard of him or just learnt the story from the columns of a well-circulated daily. Life goes on, miracles happen, realities take a sudden and novel turn, story and reality change places!
Author’s Bio: Dr. Dipan Adhikari is an Assistant Professor of Botany in the Post Graduate Dept of Botany in Hooghly Mohsin College, Chinsurah, Hooghly, West Bengal, India. He is an avid reader of English Literature and has been a regular reader and writer of scientific articles related to modern biology. He has published more than 15 scientific papers in different peer reviewed national and international journals. This short story is his first endeavor in the world of creative writing.
azaan- The daily early morning prayer offered by the Muslim community.
Chapati- is an unleavened flatbread from India and Pakistan. It is a common staple of cuisine in South Asia as well as amongst South Asian expatriates throughout the world.
Naihati- is a town and an important railway junction station on the Indian Railways network, in the district of North 24 Parganas, West Bengal, India.
Shyamnagar- is a town in the district of North 24 Parganas, West Bengal. It is considered as one of the major development hubs in the district. It is situated around 30 km away from Kolkata.
Illustration by Alan Van Every (Featured image on the front page)
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