( #TalesFromPaharpur : 2nd and concluding part of story 1. Day 4 of #BlogchatterA2Z challenge)
“What more can I say. If I had time I would have told you the details about our training and our meeting with Subhash Chandra Bose. We were somewhere in Manipur. One day we were told to get ready for a great battle that would be decisive.
But, before we were ready the British surrounded us. Damodar told us that our first task was to save Netaji. The battle lasted for five hours. We were able to repel the British. However, in the process half of our troupe perished . Damodar was one of them. We did not have time to mourn or do the last rites properly as news arrived that British reinforcement could come at any time. Along with Netaji we escaped and were soon joined by a large number of our supporters. Then we conducted a prayer meeting for the departed.
I have seen the dead body of Damodar with my own eyes. After coming back we did not know how to break the news to Chandra bhabi. But to our surprise, when the news of her husband’s death reached her, she laughed and said, ‘He cannot die before my death. He promised that he would never allow me to a live a widow’s life. My heart knows he is alive.’
She refused to follow the dictates ordained for a widow like going bangle-less, wearing only white, or going for a strict vegetarian diet. Initially we tried to convince her, but seeing her resistance we stopped. We also never brought up the issue of the death after that till this widow pension issue came up.”
Sahib asked my grandfather, “Do you believe that Netaji is dead?”
“No. It is a conspiracy. We got the news that he was killed in a plane crash. But we knew that it was a conspiracy by the British to demoralise us.”
Rain had stopped. Still grandpa ordered us to take our umbrellas and go with sahib till the fair road three miles away after the river. His office jeep waited for him there.
Next day we went to Chandra Dadi’s house. She was as usual at her cheerful best. We asked her if she still had some stock of Adisha. It is a sweet cake specialty which only a few can make properly. She was the best in our village.
She brought three pieces but we were six. We shared it.
We never got bored of teasing her for her patience in waiting for the useless old man or hearing her story about the short period she spent with her husband.
Budhia would be the first to start. “Dadi, once again I am telling you to forget your old man and marry me. He did not do anything to you then. Now also if he comes back, at this old age what pleasure will he give you?”
This much liberty was allowed with our grandparents.
She would respond, “You boys will not understand. When you see a young girl, you immediately think of raping her. But he was not like that.
I got married at ten. He was twenty. At thirteen or fourteen my parents brought me here. I had heard so many stories of first nights. How the men almost raped the young girls who had barely matured.
He used to fight with her mother who used to be adamant that I slept with him.
‘She is only a kid mother,’ he would say, ‘let her sleep in your room for some days.’
He would ask me again and again if I was comfortable. Everyday evening he brought sweets and other savories from Bhallapur or from Bittinagar. He said that he was arranging to go to Burma along with others after a month. With the money he earned in Burma, he hoped to get back the land that their family had sold to marry off three of his sisters. His father had died when he was twelve and since then he had been the sole bread earner of the family.
He asked his mother again and again to take care of me properly during his absence. Before going he asked me to tell him what I wanted him to bring when he returned from Burma.
I had heard that many people who went to Burma did not return. Some settled there while some died either during the strenuous journey. Some even got killed by the locals there. I myself had grown up with a lot of widows in my joint family.
I had heard that only the pious and the luckiest ones depart for the other world before their husbands. So it came out from my mouth, ‘I don’t want to die as a widow.’
He shouted, ‘who taught you such things? Don’t believe in such stupid stuff. Anyway, one of the other reasons for my not consummating our marriage is that it will keep me motivated to come back. I also don’t want my children to grow up without seeing their father. This is a common thing in all our villages here. Children see their father for the first time only when they are eight or ten. I don’t want to happen this to our children. I have asked mother to take care of you. Still, if there is any problem, tell Loka’s mother or go back to your village. You take care of yourself and get all those stupid ideas out of your head.’
He urged her mother with folded hands to take care of me till he returned.
After he lef, his mother took care of me like her own daughter. This was something rare. Even now you see how young brides are treated as slaves. I was lucky.”
She enjoyed telling this story again and again. We also loved hearing it. Her missing husband had become a hero in our minds.
The sahib’s next visit to our village was in December. The water level in Kalindi was below knee deep and his jeep could now come right inside our village.
“A jeep in our village. Bhroom… bhroom,” shouted the children as they came and gathered around the jeep. Men too came out of their houses to find out and celebrate the unique event of the presence of a mechanical vehicle in our village. Women peered out of their houses from behind the half open doors.
The Sahib got down from the jeep and asked us to call Chandra Dadi as he was walking to her house. Budhia ran and knocked on the door.
When she opened the door sahib said, “Dadi ji, we have corrected the birth date in your voter Id card. Now you don’t need to be declared a widow to get your pension immediately.”
He asked us to go through the papers and assure her that the papers were in line with what he said. Now she was sixty three and was eligible for the old age pension. She was also eligible to get the arrears for the past three years in one lump sum.
There was jubilation all around. Then and there Dadi announced that when the first pension came there would be grand puja at the temple of our village deity.
The jeep driver took us till the river so that in case the vehicle got stuck in the sand we could be of help. We got down before the jeep entered the river and followed it. The sahib too got down and walked along with us.
“I enjoy so much walking bare foot on the river sand.” he said. The jeep crossed the river without getting stuck.
When we were turning back, the sahib called us to come close. “I forgot to tell you one thing. I have taken up the matter to construct a bridge across this river and extend the fair road till your village. It may take some time, maybe years. Let us see”
We wanted to jump with joy. Being village boys we did not know how to say thanks formally. Maybe he got it from our looks.
Budhia said, “Sahib. We will name the bridge as Damodar Bridge and put his statue here. He is perhaps the only reckonable hero that our village has produced.”
“No. Don’t do it. Not as long as Dadi is alive. I wish that she live a very very long life. From the way you villagers are taking care of her, I know she will. But after she dies erect statues for both of them. Her heroics too need to be preserved for the posterity.”
We were a little confused and remained silent.
Sahib broke the silence, “I forgot to tell you one more thing. My name too is Damodar.”