About the Author
Ahana Mukherjee is a post graduate in public relations and management studies but motherhood propelled her into becoming an educationist. After her Public Relations stint in Mumbai she was in an International School in Kuala Lumpur teaching the primary school children. As a child she used to write her experiences in a diary and she nurtured the knack as she grew up. Motivated by her friend, she plunged into blogging and writing.
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“Aye Chand bata tera mazhab kya hai? Kal Id pe muskura raha thha, aj teej pe khilkhila raha hai”
Nilofer and her family had to flee today itself. No more time could they waste thinking about the property and house. The bloodshed and gore was everywhere and all of a sudden everything that was theirs had ceased to be so.
“Ammi, do you think those who are from the other side go through the same trauma?” Nilofer asked innocently.
“We don’t have time to think about those infidels, my child,” Ammi brushed her aside brusquely.
Just then Adil came running in. “All arrangements have been made, the dinghy will wait until 12 in the midnight, we should be there by then,” he announced urgently.
There was silence in the room. Nilofer looked around her; a tear trickled down her eyes. Seventeen years of her life was gone with one stroke of pen by someone, somewhere, higher up, deciding on her fate. Her friends, her school, her newfound love… in short her life was brought to a naught! Though the Ichamati tonight will row them to safety yet the Ichamati in her, the tumultuous one, was overflowing with despondency and melancholy and she couldn’t brush aside the feeling of foreboding.
How she yearned to visit Neela for one last time. They had promised to remain friends forever in the peregrination of life. And she felt restlessness seething in her as she curbed the desire to meet and bid farewell to Alok one last time. Despite the strife, Alok and she had been strong. He promised to be with her and had calmed her by saying that the struggle would not last long and everything would go back to as it was. The truth about how wrong Alok was finally seeping in her. She wept, silently in her room. If Ammi and Abbu even got the hint of her involvement with Alok and her recent indiscretion with him, they would probably lynch both of them. Nilofer shuddered at the thought and quickly started throwing some of her precious belongings in a trunk.
Ammi had packed some food for their boat trip. Apparently, Bengal will be divided into Purbo Bangla (East Bengal) and Paschim Bangla (West Bengal) and they were all moving, bag and baggage, to East Bengal. Nilofer muttered a silent prayer as the family moved towards Ichamati river in the shadows of the night. They spotted their boat simmering in the moonlight; it already had a couple of passengers.
Nilofer and her family made way into the dinghy and made a place to sit amongst a few others. Ichamati was quiet, and the waters shimmered in the silvery rays of the moon. The shadows of the trees and vegetation loomed on them as they slowly moved downstream. Nilofer let go of the tears, she clung to Ammi and sobbed unaware that Ammi too was shedding her own tears just as the others around her. The boatman was singing a ‘bhatiali’ number , a song about the river and our life, which added to the pensive yet serene atmosphere
As the dinghy advanced around the bend of the river, they head a muffled noise of a motor steamer. The boatman stopped his bhatiali and the rest of them looked up to see what went wrong. Nilofer yelled with fear at what she saw before her.
The boatman’s head was neatly chopped off and his body was slowly careening off onto the waters. There was a man with a huge sword in his hand. Everyone shuddered. The man shouted at the others in the steamer. Abbu, Adil and some other men, quickly drew their daggers and over powered the man and threw him in the waters. One of them took the oars and furiously rowed away from the bend but the little dinghy was no match for motor powered steamer.
The women were shrieking, the children crying, the men shouting orders at each other and one lone boy rowing frantically to save those whose fate was already decided. The steamer was upon them in no time. Even in the silhouette Nilofer could identify Alok. She heaved a sigh of relief. Let lose her mother’s hand and stood up and shouted out for Alok.
“Its me Alok.”
“Do you know this girl Alok,” asked the elderly gentleman.
“Alok, please let us go, my family is here,” pleaded Nilofer
“Adil and his cronies burnt down your best friend Neela’s house and made sure that none of them could escape by locking the doors,” said Alok menacingly, as he moved towards her.
“Neela’s parents love Adil, he could not have done that, you are lying,” Nilofer was shaking with shock at the information.
“Ask your brother Nilofer.”
“Come back here you stupid girl, don’t speak to them,” Abbu pushed Nilofer.
“Adil, did you do what Alok just said? Neela loved you more than her brother, she was a sister to me, my best friend.” Nilofer was uncontrollable
Ammi put her arms around her to console her. The others just gaped on. At least the children had stopped crying as they watched on.
“Nilofer, what do you think your father and brother would do to you when they get to know we consummated our love, last Dura Puja?” smirked Alok.
“Alok…” Nilofer broke off feebly.
There was an eerie silence for a moment.
Ammi was the first to break the silence. She cried loudly beating her head with her hands, her bangles clanging against each other and some ominously breaking off.
“Nilofer, I can’t let any of you go,” Alok announced with finality. “But we can let them all live if you agree to come with us and entertain us. You are very good, that I have seen already,” he said with a sly smile. Nilofer curled up in fear at what he hinted.
“No, please kill us all, let us all bathe in the Ichamati for the last time,” implored Ammi.
And then, one after the other the, slaughter started, first with Adil and ending with the children. The two year old was not spared either. The first bloodbath at Ichamati started with the boat that had Nilofer and this would not be the last. As the bodies were slaughtered and thrown into the river, Nilofer saw the bundle of food Ammi so lovingly packed for them drift past. In a matter of hours, the serenity of the landscape changed into hostility.
“What do we do with your girl, Alok?”
“Do what you want to.”
Nilofer looked through her khol smeared eyes at the man, she loved so dearly and one day wanted to start a family with, he looked so different.
“Kill me Alok, don’t leave me at their mercy. Don’t forget the promise we made before Ma Durga,” beseeched the poor girl, as her gossamer dupatta was pulled away from her and hands grabbed and dragged her away.
Today the Ichamati shares her banks with Bangladesh and India and the border lies somewhere in-between the river. What is amusing is we share the same water to drink and bathe yet we are somehow different from each other.