4th April 1971
A fusillade of bullets from the other end of Bangladesh border turned Ranjan deaf as he mounted his camera on the tripod to take a shot of the war inflicted zone.
“How many times should I tell you, it’s not the landscape of your imagination where you can capture the perfect shot,” whispered the general in Ranjan’s ear with a tone of despair.
Ranjan on the other hand could only feel the bad breath accompanied with the foul odour trapped in the general’s body for over a week. The shock of silence still looming in his ear infact could only fathom the grim mask worn by the general followed by animated gestures. After experiencing a minute of absolute silence, Ranjan could finally accustom himself with the surrounding sounds; his ear all set to hear again the cacophonies of life.
Moving gingerly towards the general, he whispered “Sir you and your army are the only people who can liberate us from the shackles of the enemies and I am the only journalist from my country on whom the government relies on to let the citizens of its country update about the on goings of the war. Both of us stand on the same pedestals; separated with a thin line of responsibility.”
“Agreed my son, but that doesn’t mean that you trespass the line of safety to put yourself into a perilous zone, all I say is it’s always better to be a little cautious.” With this conversation, both of them started a new friendship with the General introducing himself as Raghavendra Chauhan, 6th Battalion, Indian Army and the other as Ranjan Bose – Photographer at The Times of India, Agartala.
An enormous blast shook the earth. The new tie of friendship that started with an introduction blew away within a matter of few seconds leaving scattered pieces of friendship that never resurrected.
27th April 2011
The sun had almost bid adieu to the day, however it’s rays still percolated through the clouds leaving behind only partial darkness adored with a shiny outline. On NH-24, a Xylo zoomed away with the tag ‘Happily Onboard’ swinging at its rear end.
Aisha randomly scribbled a distorted outline of a camera on a piece of tissue paper, the only thing she knew how to draw perfectly, since she was 3 years old.
“Why do you always draw the same picture every time darling?,” asked Ashima as she tucked away her daughter’s hair behind her ear.
“Because this is what defines me Mom”
With a startled expression, Ashima asked “What do you mean defines you?”
Just 10 and Aisha was talking like a grown up girl who knows what defines her little daughter?
“May be one day I will find out,” Aisha folded the tissue paper and kept it inside her side pocket.
Aisha lifted her face from the paper, looked out of the car window. Beneath the highway, a small hut that stood on a barren field caught her attention. A sudden flash of images appeared infront of her. They moved her from within shaking her entire body. Aisha felt as if she has reached her destination, she has found what she was looking for.
“Dad can you stop the car here?” Aisha patted back on her Dad’s shoulder.
Ashish slowed down the Xylo.
“Are you hungry darling…there’s a Dhaba nearby let’s stop there,” said Ashish
“No dad can you stop here…please…please…I need to go…,” insisted Aisha
“Where do you want to go now? Stopping in the middle of a Highway is risky dear,” said Ashish shifting the gear as the car began to pick up its pace.
“You have to stop….right here…screamed Aisha this time.
The shrill in Aisha’s voice brought down the car to an unexpected halt producing a defeaning noise as the tyres screeched in the middle of the highway.
“Ashima why don’t you make her understand that how much risky it is to stop the car in a highway,” said Ashish in a calm yet disturbed voice confused between the innocence of her little girl and the responsibility of a doting father. Somewhere, he was aware of what was happening.
Ashima was in a state of shock at the reaction of her daughter’s erratic behavior. She could not believe what she just saw.
“Tell Mama…What is it that is bothering my little girl?,” asked Ashima calmly.
“Mama I have to meet my old friend. See the little hut over there in the field, that’s my friend’s home.”
“How can you have a friend at a deserted place like this? Neither Papa nor Mama knows anybody here,” asked Ashima.
The desperation in Aisha’s voice reminded Ashish the prediction of his mother, that his child will be a special one and will find an alternate personal identity apart from the existing one.
Now may be the time has come.
“But Papa knows. Let’s go Aisha,” said Ashish once he stopped the car and parked it at a safer place.
There was not much trace of human population as Aisha along with her parents walked down through the muddy road surrounded with barren land. In fact, it were only the two dim street lights that would fill this no man’s land alive with their blaze. The word ‘Muktipara’ (Independent Area) was engraved in Bengali on a stone tablet that almost half-submerged itself, as if consumed by the earth and diluted with the passage of time.
After walking for a kilometer, the family came across a small bridge. On the other side, was a mud-thatched hut which was where, Aisha was supposed to meet her friend.
The silhouette of a frail old man, aged about 80 years cuddled on a bed appeared on the wall as they opened the wooden door which was kept ajar. Near the wooden bed, the flame of an old lamp flickered. The sound of the door woke up the old man from his slumber as he turned his face towards the unwanted guests.
With shaky hands, he tried to reach out for his glasses but failed to do so. Aisha moved forward to hand over his glasses. The old man in his aged voice asked, “Who’s there?”
Aisha brought the lamp closer to his face. The countless contours on the forehead took him back to that day in 1971. Handling over the glasses, Aisha started sobbing. Regaining confidence, she said,” Both of us stand on the same pedestal today General.”
Wearing his glasses, Raghavendra looked at Aisha for a minute and then he smiled. With raised eyebrows, he asked, “Ranjan…my friend…how come you are here…and how come you are trapped inside the body of a 10 year child?”
Touching the head of the General, she said, “May be destiny wanted me to meet with you twice, but in different births.”