A Boy and a War
S R Shuja
Decided but we still had to hold off the trip to Khulna until mom felt well enough to make the trip. Her pregnancy seemed to have frequent ups and downs – screaming at me one moment, all nauseous the next followed by nasty throw ups. Even going to Dorgahpur could be a struggle. Dadu knew he had no other choice but to take us in person to Khulna. Mom, in her current condition, could never handle an escape artist and a crying machine. However, he was in the middle of a land dispute and couldn’t leave right away.
My life went on uninterrupted. In every opportunity I got I wandered away into the village. This was particularly a concern to mom. She never missed an opportunity to lecture me on the dangers of such ventures. Only if I could grasp the gravity of it! My time was spent doing the usual – roaming around in the orchards, listening to Alek’s tune on the pipe, shepherding the cattle in the grazing fields, fishing in the pond with a hook on a fixed line tied at one end of a dried jute stick and so much more. Time breezed through.
Once she was feeling a little better mom demanded to revisit his parental home one last time before going to Khulna. This was good news. I was drooling to join Rani apa again and ploughing through the neighbourhood. Alek was asked to take necessary preparation which really meant he had to find somebody to take the cattle out for grazing. Unfortunately, the date kept on getting pushed back. Thanks to mom who never seemed to feel better for long enough to make the trip safely. She was nauseous and miserable all the time. Some days she barely got up from bed. Who knew carrying a baby was so much trouble!
One day I was riding with Alek on his bike to the village market when we crossed the postman, who stopped us.
“Hold on Alek. Isn’t he Rasheed’s son?”
“Yes, the only one.” Alek answered. Then to me, “Khoka, this is Ahmed bhai. He is our postman.” Back to postman. “Do you have anything for us?”
“Do I?” Ahmed bhai graciously said. “I was actually going to their house. I have a letter from Rasheed. Do you want it, son?”
I jumped down from Alec’s bike. “Yes, yes.”
The postman held out a colourful envelop at me. I was delighted with the picturesque stamps. I snatched it from his hand and bolted toward home. Alek followed me in his bike.
“Jump up on the bike, Khoka. How long are you going to run?” He called out.
True. I rode on the handle of his bike as he flew through the uneven dirt road. We could hear Ahmed bhai laughing happily behind us.
The letter created a ripple of emotions in the house. After travelling through several hands it finally reached dadu. It was addressed to him. He tore off one side of it carefully and pulled out two neatly scribbled pages. The rest of us sat on the floor in a semi circle as he proceeded to read it loudly.
Dad was posted in Quetta. His training was cancelled. There was no time for that. Situation could turn bad abruptly. Preparations for war were in place. Dad did not get any housing there. He was staying in the officer’s club for the time being. He didn’t know how long he would stay in Quetta. There was already word of posting him somewhere else, which could be even further. He missed all of us very much. He was trying hard to take us to him but everything depended on him finding some kind of damn housing. Everything seemed to be heading for turmoil. His working environment was yet to be impacted by politics but one could easily see subtle signs. The soldiers had differences in opinions which came out during several incidents. Like several other Bengali doctors dad kept quiet. There was no good in getting into unnecessary trouble. If the situation really turned into a full fledge confrontation then the time would come to decide. He was determined not to work for the West Pakistani army. However, there was no reason to believe that they would release him so easily. He wrote many other things. At one point dadu stopped reading and passed on the letter to mom.
“The rest is for you, dear.”
Mom was all tears. She took the letter and locked herself in a room. Clearly she wasn’t having much of a good time without dad around. Rushi, with tears rolling down non-stop from both her eyes and nostrils, banged on the closed doors. I took her away from there and followed Alek to the cow shed. Jhima had two cows. One of them was quite pregnant just like mom. As we allowed Rushi to feel her bloated belly she became quiet. The pregnant cow watched her with big, affectionate eyes. Rushi thoughtfully said, “Is she going to have a girl like me?”
At this both Alek and I burst into laughter. “Yes she will. You’ll see.” Rushi adamantly said. “She is not going to have a brat like you. Neither will mom.”
Not good. “Don’t say such inauspicious thing.” I gravely said.
That day we didn’t even see mom again until it was supper time. Finally when she decided to step out of her room her face was swollen like a watermelon. It was clear that she cried to her heart’s content. Jhima screamed at her mercilessly for breaking down like that. She was concerned about the baby. That night it was decided that we would go to nana’s house for a second visit in couple of days. Once we returned from there we would be heading for Khulna. Dad specifically instructed mom in his letter to go to Khulna and stay with khala. He didn’t think it would be safe to live so close to the border area.