Fiction: Uncategorized

Sampurna Datta

Short Fiction

Memories, good or bad, occupy a hefty chunk of human mind. We often cherish, avoid, treasure, and visit them – laughing or crying together. But some memories never qualify as entirely good or ill – they remain uncategorized.

It has been almost five years now that I have been travelling from Tollygunje to Sealdah station, from where I take a brief walk, to my office beside Prachi cinema hall. With much of its old glory lost, Prachi cinema, is still an important landmark in Sealdah. The walk past the bustling lanes has always been quite engaging for me, more than any of my co-commuters, probably because I am a writer. Life with an array of vibrant flavours are on perennial display and I would breathe in all of it. The unhindered struggle for survival, is a celebration of life itself.

Sampurna Datta
It was on one such ordinary day, that I had managed to squeeze into the second compartment of the up- Budge-Budge local and luckily got a seat as well. Winter has arrived a little early this time than expected, and people did not waste any time to get the woolens out of their cupboards. Most were thickly dressed, cuddling up inside shawls and jackets. The temperature was probably a degree or two down, but the feel of it was down by several mercury levels. Hawkers were flooding in with fruits, dilkush (a local train cake served temptingly hot), chips, puffs, safety pins, purse, clips and apparently everything to run a household. As the train approached Park Circus, someone sitting at the window, said, “Oh my God, they are here today.” Some panicked, some laughed while some remained indifferent. I tried to find out who are “they”?

I did not have to work much. The distinct sound of clapping, broken raucous voices and severe loud clothes, said it all.  These creatures (human?) are habitually avoided by people. They are not meant to be a part of society, not to be meddled with, not to be looked at, not to be loved, not to be remembered. They are not a part of anyone’s life or memory. They have been forgotten by all – their parents, neighbours, friends, siblings and even the government. So they charge people for being the Creator’s careless creation. A strange feeling of guilt had occupied my senses, when I looked at the one standing in front of me. Champa, was wearing a pink silk blouse and an embroidered black sari. Her blouse had a latkan at the back. Her hair was scanty near the forehead, almost exposing a bony masculine face, but was tied in a long braid that reached her waist. Her body was in a constant motion, some due to the train and the rest her training, to make people slip out cash. Having done with a college boy, she turned towards our seat. Her pimpled skin could be seen under the cheap layer of makeup, her lips were dark red with lipstick…

I was carefully observing her, when our eyes met. Something hammered inside my memory documents. Though hugely altered, I still seemed to have seen that face before. Champa too had an identical expression on her face. A smile of recognition came and suddenly vanished from the corner of her lips. She rushed away from me and went to another side, almost keeping me on the edge of my seat.

Mr Majumder had recently moved to our next apartment then, with his pregnant wife Ashima and younger son, Shubhrojit.  He worked for Eastern railway and was my Dad’s colleague. I was in standard 1 and happy to find a boy of my age moving in as our neighbour. Shubhrojit was put in my school and we would go to school together. Either my dad or Majumder uncle would take us up the road from our colony, where our school bus would wait. After four months, one night, when we were all asleep a violent knocking on our door woke us up. Mrs Majumder was in labour and had to be rushed to the railway hospital. My dad and Mr Majumder, took her down in a chair which looked pretty cool to me. We all were anxious to hear from dad the next morning, about the new member. He came back with a strange white face. He took my mother inside and almost whispered the news in her ears. All I could fathom from their conversation were three words “not well formed”. It was beyond my capacity to conclude an answer for my question from those three words – “Is it a boy or a girl?”

After two days, Ashima Aunty came back with the baby. I and Shubhrojit were waiting anxiously to see the baby. It was folded in a yellow baby towel and was sleeping. Ashima aunty had puffy eyes as if she didn’t sleep for days. We both were queuing up to take the baby when my dad gave me loud scolding to come back home. My mother went and hugged Ashima aunty and she broke down, behind closed doors we could hear a lot of blurred words, which made no sense to me and Shubhrojit.

As months passed, we were given a free but observant access to play with the baby girl. Her name was Ashma. She had started to crawl and would soon walk. It was my daily routine to come back from school, change as fast as possible and go to Ashma. I could manage to take her in my lap, and jerk it a bit for her to sleep. Shubhro too would try it at times, but being a girl I was more of an expert. Strangely enough, there was no ceremony for Ashma after she turned six months. Shubhro and I, were again left without an answer. Four years later, Ashma was put into our school, and we, in class 5 then, would hold her hands all the way to the bus stand.  She was like a little piece of joy in our life. We would keep an eye on her even during school hours. We had automatically acquired a sense of responsibility towards her.

Time was passing by gently, when one day, Ashma refused to go to school anymore.
Shubhro had long been sent to a boarding school in Darjeeling and I was in high school preparing for my boards. I would no longer go to their flat like before. Ashma a teenager, have had strange developments in her. Her classmates would often jeer and call her a “SheMan”. Her voice cracked, like most teenagers, but had a different tone altogether. She would avoid talking even with me when we would meet in the stairs by chance. Her face had a girly innocence covered with a lot of facial hairs, especially on the edges. I would often ask Maa, about the problem with Ashma, and had to be satisfied with a vague answer.

One night, before my Geography exam, the frequent quarrels of Ashma with her father took the worst turn. Next morning, while leaving for school I could hear Ashima aunt’s weak and frail cry.

Ashma had left the house…

I had met her many times after that day, on my way to office. We both have learnt to avoid an eye contact.

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