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        After thirty long years I have come again to my mother’s maternal uncle’s house. I now wonder to find that I have passed thirty years of my life! I last visited there when I was a boy of seven. I went there accompanied by my mother. My grandparents on my mother’s side were very poor. My mother was brought up in her maternal uncle’s house. So, she went there off and on. In my boyhood I accompanied my mother wherever she went, unlike my sister who stayed with my father at home. In fact, I was more fond of my mother while my sister was of my father.

       The transport system was not developed then. We went there by bus which left us five kilometers away from the village where my mother’s maternal uncle lived. From the bus stop she carried me in her lap. When she could no longer do it, she asked me, “My son, can you walk a few steps?.”  I replied enthusiastically, “Why not, mother? I am very strong. I am not my sister. She cannot do anything. She is so weak!” By this reply I thought I could show both my strength as well as my love for my mother. After five minutes mother again took me in her lap and kissed me for relieving her for that duration. The process continued at a regular interval till we reached that village.

      The moment we reached the house, my mother’s aunts and her grandmother, who was still living then, welcomed us with great affection. She came out her room and shouted to whoever was  present then, “A great joy! Sunu has come”. When I was still younger, some of them tried to take me to their lap but I never left my mother’s company.

       Things have changed now. Today I have come here again with my mother driving my personal car. My mother is now sixty five. An expression of unbounded joy is on her face. I stopped at the bus-stop to have a glimpse of those shops which still inhabit my childhood memory.

          I approached a brick-built shop. Here was a mud house with thatched roof. Whenever I came to this shop my mother bought me hot rasagolla, which was my favourite food at that time. I could swallow five hot rasagolla worth fifty paisa each. The shop belonged to one, my mother called Chandu uncle, who gave me another one free of cost. I told my mother, “Ma, Is your Chandu uncle still alive? After getting off the bus, you bought me sweet here!”

     Mother stared vacantly and said, “Are they here on this earth? I’ m myself sixty five!”

     I took a seat in his shop. Very often I was sinking in the thoughts of the past. Life seemed to be so simple then. Mother’s Chandu uncle gave me those delicious food in a plate made of palm leaf and then he poured water into my mouth from his jug made of mud. The hospitality gave me strength needed for the journey. In the middle of the road there was a rivulet which we had to cross by a small boat. Now a small bridge is built over it. During rainy season, the road became muddy and slippery. It so happened one time that I fell on the road and was besmeared with dirt all over. I was so angry that I told my mother, “Don’t come here again”. I was determined not to go there again but my determination vanished the moment my mother decided to pay a visit to his maternal uncle.

   As I was lost in those thoughts, suddenly I was shocked by the appearance of the owner of the shop. How can my mother’s Chandu uncle be back with the same vigorous body and same look. I turned to my mother who only smiled. Her smile seemed to know a lot of mysteries still unknown to me! She said, “His son! He looks exactly like his father. His name is Ratan.”

         After taking some sandesh for the little ones we started our journey again.  I was driving very slowly and halting again and again to relive those memories. The road is now metalled one with no traces of rusticity. The interminable road has turned into a very short road. The rivulet seemed in my childhood to be a vast ocean with no end of water. The small boats seemed to my childish eye to be ships coming from the unknown and vanishing in the unknown.

         Thirty years ago, after getting off the bus when I started to head towards that village it seemed to me─ though I do not know why─ that the village had no objective existence. It had to be created through imagination. At first, I found no sign of the village. Everything seemed to be shrouded in mists and obscurity. It appeared to me that I embarked on a task of discovering that village after groping in the dark for a few minutes. Every time it had to be created out of chaos. It seemed to uplift its veil of mystery gradually to a devoted explorer. When I started viewing a silhouette or outline of the village, my heart leapt in joy and at that moment my mother whispered to my innocent ears, “Nirmal, Look there! it’s my maternal uncle’s village.” When we touched the border of the village, its creation was complete and it was before me, objectively.

       Now I look at the village from a distance. Something seems to be missing, something seems to be absent. The absence makes itself deeply felt when I entered the village and interacted with one or two villagers. Even our relatives appeared to be strangers.

         I told my mother, “The village has lost its glory and mystery. It appears to be prosaic.” My mother only said, “You have come here after so many years. Everything has changed!”

        I have stopped my car beside the school where my mother was taught at the secondary level. Earlier, it had four mud-built rooms with a common thatched roof. Even a secondary school was not without its mystery. I thought the little structure to be the dwelling place of pundits who possessed infinite knowledge who could solve all the mysteries of the world.

       One day while passing it I asked my mother, “Ma, what do your teachers give there?”

       Mother replied, “They give us light.” So, when with the sunset darkness gradually prevailed, I prayed to the inhabitants of the structure, rather than to the inhabitants of a temple. One day I peeped through the window and to my horror I found a man of bulky figure was beating a little boy, I thought that the wretch has committed some sin and the teacher is preventing his entry into hell, the horrible hell, the tortures of which have been related to me by my eighty-year-old grandmother.

  Now the school is a three-storeyed building. No one punishes now. No one prevents or induces journey into hell. Competition and career are the keywords.

July 24, 2020 12:25

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