A Boy and a War
S R Shuja
Finally in August 1973 India and Pakistan signed a formal prisoner exchange agreement. India would release the ‘Prisoner of wars’ in exchange of all the stranded Bangladeshi army personnel and civilians. Worried and uncertain about the situation back home dad and mom still were overjoyed with the prospect of going back home. I on the other hand became truly sad in the thought of losing all my friends. Aman wasn’t too happy either. One day we walked quietly along the street for a while.
“Where are you going to live once back home?” On our way back Aman asked.
I heard my parents discussing it. Dad would have to join Dhaka cantonment upon his return. If the working condition was not good then he planned to retire and start his own private practice in Dhaka. I explained it to Aman. Apparently his father was thinking in the same line. Still both of us knew once in Dhaka we weren’t going to be able to see each other the way we did here. We probably would be living far away and if lucky may meet once in a blue moon. Dhaka was a big city, a crowded city.
Around the end of November we packed up our stuff and joined several others in boarding a train. We would go to Karachi first, from there fly to Dhaka. Ratul and his family were going in the same train with us. Aman would go a few days later. He came to the train station with his dad to say good bye. Right before the train started, he shyly murmured,” I am sorry I hurt you.”
I embraced him dearly and gave a broad smile. “Dad said the scar on my forehead won’t go away too soon. That means I won’t forget you that quickly.”
Aman rarely smiled but on this moment his face lit up with an innocent smile. I waved at him and jumped back into the train. Soon the train moved forward. After two years we left our temporary homes, memories and a thousand small things behind us as the train headed toward Quetta. From Quetta to Karachi, then Dhaka. Who knew how life will be in Dhaka? I understood the anxiety of my parents. My concern was something else. I lost so many good friends in one shot, will I make any more? Who knew where we’ll end up living? Would there be other boys? The joyous and carefree life that I was leaving behind, would I ever get it back? Milky was two years old. He ran around and spoke many words. He fondly called out for me ‘Bhaiya! Bhaiya!” and flanked with me all the time. I liked it very much. I truly enjoyed the feelings of having a little brother.
Our train ran past beautiful mountainous region … march on… march on… march on… march…march…march…I heard the melody of a famous song by Nazrul. I had already memorized a few of his melodious songs and poems. I sang out loudly as the rhythmic sound of the moving train became my music
March on, march!
The drum resounds in the sky above,
The earth below is all agog,
You the corps of youth of the scarlet dawn
March on, march on!
Milky would join me too enjoying every bit of it so much that he couldn’t wipe off the babyish smile from his cute face. Rushi sat in mom’s lap hanging dearly to her doll through this musical extravaganza. She had become very close to Milky as well. She even let him play with her favourite dolls. If anybody else had done so all hell would break loose.
Chuga… chuga… chuga… chuga… choo… choo…we advanced through the series of ridges and valleys, rolling hills, dark caves, dry lands, green fields…all of it seemed like the words of a lullaby… so melodious that it reverberated into the ears. Our parents were getting a little bit impatient in the long trip. On our way to Quetta from Karachi we were given first class accommodation. This time we were travelling on regular compartments, the comfort wasn’t there. Mom had brought food for the way which was all we were eating. Dad had very little money left with him. We would need that once in Dhaka. He didn’t want to spend even a penny unless absolutely necessary.
Once we went past Quetta the hills started to disappear. The natural plain land of the province Sindh unfolded a different view in front of our eyes. The greeneries constantly fell behind us as we zoomed through green fields and occasional dwellings. Milky and I joined forces to run inside the compartment. Mom reprimanded but we continued. There was a sense of liberation in the air, as if this magical chariot of ours were carrying us away from the worldly limitations and bindings to a new world.
During long stoppages we hopped out to the station platform. Mom had also packed some rice and lintel like many others. She along with several other women lighted up small kerosene stoves and quickly cooked something up. It felt like a picnic. We were a happy bunch. Even Rushi was so excited that she went on to ask mom,” Are we having a picnic, mom?”
Mom snapped at her. “Yes, picnic my foot!”
None of us could figure out why she was in such a bad mode. Dad tried to lighten the situation up by playing with us. Bashar and Ratul were travelling in a compartment at the other end of the train. We bunched up on the station. However dad and Uncle Jafor did not speak to each other. Many other kids joined us on the platform as well. We played ‘tag’ noisily. Even Milky joined us in the game though he kept on falling down on his butt. I was amazed to see him running around. He was just a tiny baby on our way to Quetta! Everybody in Bangladesh would be so surprised to see him.
The train started its journey again. We ate hot Khicuri made with rice and lintel. Mom seemed to get touched with our enthusiasm. She lightened up with a smile. “You kids are acting like this is some kind of festival.”
We laughed cheerfully. How would mom know the pleasure in riding a train into the unknowns? Could it be that the aging process took away the sense of magical feelings from mom? Slowly the sun disappeared in the horizon and came down the dusk like a mysterious sheet and the dark sky opened up the magical door to the moon and the stars. Soon, full and tired, we fell asleep. The train kept on going like a dark horse constantly humming in our ears …sleep on…sleep on…I dreamt about my beloved ones…jhima, dadu, dadi, khala, khalu, chachi, chachu, Rani Apa, Minu Apa…so many others…even in the dreams I felt the eagerness to see them once again. I sent waves and waves of thoughts in the air …we are coming Rani apa. Just a little longer.