Tuesday, 29 January 2013

A NEW LEASE OF LIFE



The school was closed as it was being renovated with the funds that the authorities had got after a long period of petition. My friends, who used to play with me, had already gathered at the playground but that day we decided to turn our attention to a stationary truck by the side of the playground. The weather was good and we had gathered in a number large enough to frighten the selfish giant. This was the story we had just read and always looked for an opportunity to go into such a garden and play with him. But we could not get started out until one of our friends had arrived after attending one of his home tutors. When he arrived another half an hour later, I told him about the thrill we would experience by exploring the truck and hiding in it when we would play hide and seek. He   took a good look at the truck and then nodded, saying that the idea was very good and worth a try.

As soon as it was decided, we all clambered into the truck and sat there at the back on the platform where normally goods are carried. We sat there having the thrill of sitting at a place which almost looked huge like an open room fixed on wheels. One of the friends with the gift of imagination said that once the truck had started, we would go far away from the place and we would not have to study and do the homework we were loaded with. Suddenly as I stood up to look around, I saw a formidable looking man staring at me. As he suddenly screamed at us ostensibly to free his possession, the truck, he looked like an incarnation of the terrible giant we had been reading and he did not look like he was going to change to love the children we were. Then he came rushing towards the truck and the other boys who had stood up by then saw him and without a second thought jumped from the truck and ran away to safety. As I tried to do the same I was not as much lucky as my shirt got caught in the hook supporting the wooden plank at the end of the truck. once I was caught by the huge iron hook, my body turned upside down and began to dangle for a split second and then unable to bear the weight of the body, the shirt gave way and I fell to the ground head down. I had a feeling that I could hear a faint cry and then I passed out. When I came back to my senses, getting over the darkness in which I had relapsed several hours later,  I had seen darkness which had devoured the sunshine of the day. I was feeling too nauseous and could feel the presence of a good number of people around me in the room. The doctor, who had come, seemed to check me with a look of anxiety and then after a careful examination for what lasted a good period of time, he announced in a prophetic manner, ‘Shift him to the hospital before it is too late.’ My mother who had been sitting beside me, stroking me affectionately began to sob and told someone in the house in a nearly choking voice, ‘Send a word to his father and ask him to come at once.’
By the time my father came nearly out of breath with the look of dread on his face, I had vomited a number of times causing many more people to come to our house, including the parents and relatives of the friends I had been playing with. As the room was abuzz with the whispers of the people and the doleful sobs of my mother, I was gently picked up by some people and taken into a hired cab. When the cab began to move on the way to the hospital, I lost my consciousness again. When I again came back to my senses, I was lying on a bed at the R, G, Kar hospital. Later I heard from my mother that my father had implored the doctor to do anything to save my life as he had been told that my condition was very critical. They compared the condition to my being kept in a room full of deadly snakes and then added paradoxically that I could survive if I was not bitten.
As a child I was very restless and was loved by nearly all the people in the locality with the exception of the people who had lost some of their tiles from the stones hurled by me as well as my friends. Later I heard that each of them came to the house to meet my mother and enquired about my condition. When my mother told them about the dangerous condition I was in, some of them had tears in their eyes. Days after I had been discharged from the hospital when I listened to my mother, I realized the power of love and began to hold it as something of a passion encouraging men to be more than what they are.

This part of the story is built up by what was told to me by my mother as well as what I still remember of what began to happen to me and corroborated by the other acquaintances. The next day as I was lying on the bed, I had a feeling that my head was gradually being turned to the ceiling.   The nurses placed me on a bed on the floor but there was no improvement in the condition. Obstinate as I was I tried my best to look down but I could not do so. I heard a scream and something of a chorus of some agitated voices. My mother yanked herself away from the people who tried to prevent her from entering the care unit and placed a photograph under my pillow.  Sitting beside me, she began to urge me to utter the name of the saint she worshipped. Suddenly I felt I was illuminated and drawled the name some times before losing my consciousness. Then she rushed out of the room and did not stop until she had been standing before her old father who had been a devout follower of the same saint. She was direct and unusually composed, ‘Is your God true and responds to genuine prayers?’ Her father answered in a cool voice, ‘Yes, he is and he does respond when you call her from the bottom of your heart.’

With the answer delivered, he quietly went into the room where he spent most of the time, painting portraits of the saint Thakur Anukul Chandra and meditating when he got some time free. While engaged in the minute work of the strokes of the brushes, he never looked up and did not exchange a word with anyone but that day he could not paint as his eyes were blurred by the tears he had fought off not because he had told his daughter something he had to tell her but because he was feeling a strange sort of calmness born out of his conviction and faith in the power of the saint he had worshipped since he came of age. He had instilled this love for the saint among all the members of his family and they too began to regard and worship him.
He was very fond of me and would often tell me about the strange story of his life and dedication, filling my mind with veneration for the saint, though I could not understand many of the things he talked about. When I could read books without anybody’s help, he gave me some books on the life of the saint. I learnt from the book that the saint was based at Pabna, in the then Bangladesh. He showed exceptional caliber from his childhood and was devoted to the cult of the vaishnavites. Many miraculous activities in his life struck people with wonder and he began to emerge as a great spiritual leader of the order he had founded. He had a large following among people of different classes with a number of prominent Indians and westerners. One of the westerners influenced by him was one Houserman. He spent a great deal of time with him and recorded the impressions of his influence and the inspiration he had got from him in a book entitled ‘Ocean in a tea cup’, w intended to be a biography of the saint. After the partition of the country, he shifted to the free India and founded his order at Deoghar. My grandfather was entrusted with the official duties of the photographer and the artist. Besides telling me about the saint who had changed his perception and his way of thinking in a concrete way, he told me about the lives of the unusual people who used to interact with the spiritual leader. Many of the messages of the saint that my grandfather told me by way of reciting rhymes were learnt by me by heart and even to this day I realize the uniqueness of their truth.

It was a night of unusual quietude, the second night of my admission to the hospital, at the house with my mother and father in a  state of mournful silence joined by the other members of the family and people from the entire neighbourhood kept a vigil before the house waiting for a morning to bring a piece of news. My youngest uncle, who could not contain himself, arrived at the hospital at the crack of dawn and learnt from one of the nurses that I was sleeping and was out of danger. He in his excitement ran back home all the way from the hospital to the house, covering a distance of several miles to break the news and what followed was a hurrah of joy and laughter by the people who had been weak on account of being deprived of their sleep but they were not without the strength of their mind to show their emotions by hugging one another, shedding tears and thanking god.