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A Child and A War

A Novel by

Bijaya Ghosh






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It was March of 1971. General Election of Pakistan in 1970, the first ever election of my memory had returned unexpected results. Bengalis, the unimpressive, rustic peasants inhabiting the eastern part of the great delta of the Bay of Bengal, has voted Awami League into power. The economically neglected eastern part of the Pakistan was euphoric with excitement. However, the scenario was different in the western part. The real Pakistanis, the tall, handsome authoritative descendents of aristocratic Pathans and Mughals were finding the insult difficult to digest. There were numerous round table talks about the various political issues but most of them were beyond my comprehension. I, then a school going kid aged ten, belonged to the minority Hindu community - a community not really interested in the political future of the country. My family had all its hopes pinned up in a distant future that will take shape in Kolkata - the Promised Land for the Bengali Hindus - the land of exemplary civic and educational opportunities.

             Almost all of my paternal and maternal relatives have settled in India. My father, a peace loving schoolteacher had lacked the courage to take the impulsive jump into the other side of territory. So he was left out in his own motherland Khulna - to which he incidentally had very strong attachments. By doing so, he also performed an important function for his family. He used to arrange the sell of his ancestral property and send the proceeds to India to finance the education, marriage and settlement of his brothers and sisters whose total number amounted to an immodest figure of nine. Our family discussion revolved, round our absentee relatives. We lived in Pakistan but the future we looked forward to was not based there. Our hopes and imaginations were centered on some imaginary house, built in the suburbs of Kolkata, where our separated relatives had reunited to create the happy home that was broken apart by the mighty blow of the partition.

             But that summer, the topic of our family discussion had changed. Even I, a child, could sense that election result had created some expectations in my father. Both of my parents were anticipating a favorable change in the government.

             “May be the enmities between the two countries will be over now. May be the border will open up and we will able to visit our relatives”. I can still recall the small bits of conversation that took place between my parents. The references were about 1965 war, thanks to which diplomatic relations between the two countries were severed. I had never seen any of my cousins from either side or the prospect of visiting them made me extremely excited. I started making a conscious effort to understand the political conversation of the elders.

             In the March of 71, our total family assets consisted of two houses and a few acres of agricultural land. One of the houses, the one we lived in, was located in the heart of the city and was considered as a prime property. The house lacked the modern facilities like electricity and tap water and showed the initial signs of decay. In fact, it was an incomplete house, whose roof and first floor was left incomplete as a consequence of its inclusion into Pakistan. But it had the gift of fresh air and sunlight. All the important centers of activity and shopping complexes were nearby. Military base was barely 1 kilometer away. Our neighbors though belonged to the Muslim community respected my father and approached him whenever they needed impartial suggestions and advices.

             We, on the other hand, were a peculiar lot. My mother never socialized, never visited a neighbors home. My Thakuma, my grandmother from the father’s side used to maintain our social relationships by visiting a few elderly ladies of her community. For us, apart from school, the other two destinations were a public park and the nearby temple.

             My grandfather, a Zaminder and leading persona of British India used to command tremendous influence on society. Though he was a known philanthropist and spent his last penny on financing ‘Swadeshi’ banks and schools, he maintained a discreet aristocratic life style, which forbade the free mixing of his family members with commoners. As his offspring we had an invisible dictate to live in respectable isolation. In 1946, when my grandfather had died he had left the family totally starved of hard cash. My grandma’s ornaments had been kept in mortgage to perform his last rituals. After his death, my father and my first uncle had taken the responsibility of reviving ‘the sinking family ship’. But it was my first uncle rather than my father - the eldest one - was considered the decision maker for the family. During partition, he was a sub judge in Khulna city court. After partition he migrated to Kolkata by using the option to work in India. It was to him, my father used to send the proceeds of their ancestral property. He played anchor to the floating family in India.

             My Thakuma, the sweet simple matriarch of the joint family was a divided soul. She was forced to shuttle between India and Pakistan, sometimes through illegal borders, to keep in touch with her divided offsprings’. But her strongest attachments was with my father - her first-born and her mentally deranged first daughter who used to live in Pakistan - along with us. Luckily, that summer, when disasters struck us like a lightening right on the head my grandmother was living in Kolkata with her other children.

             It came unwarranted. At about 9 p.m. one night, when we were having our usual dinner, the sound of same sharp explosion broke the silence of night. My father was basically nervous. Ma, the most daring of the family, took it upon her to figure out the reason. She called Bhanuda - one tenants college going son, to extract some information. What passed between the two, I could not hear but I saw them erecting barriers before the front doors and closing the windows. There were several rounds of continuous gunfire throughout the night, interrupted by the sounds of bomb explosion. It was that night somebody explained to me that when a real bomb explodes it creates a series of slow vibrations whereas a cracker generates a sharp and single sound. Throughout the night nobody slept. Ma went up to the roof and tried to have a stealthy glimpse of the world outside. Our house, located in a corner plot of the crossing of two main roads had no privacy at all, but it could serve as a good observation post.

             From our rooftop Ma could clearly see the military vans patrolling the highways and firing haphazardly. An atmosphere of terror was created. There were low toned discussions among the elders who tried to put up brave faces in front of us - the children. And there was a necessity to explain the situation to us. I, a normally docile and uninquisitive girl had strange tendencies to break rules and display curiosity in unusual matters. So Baba - my father took special pain to explain the implications of gunfire - that “a bullet hit can really kill a person - kill or do irreversible damage to his persona - even if the person were innocent of any crime”.

             “But why should God permit this to happen? “I had asked out of genuine puzzlement.” My father, my closest friend had failed to provide any satisfactory answer to that question for the first time in my life.

            



The morning that followed was different. I was usually a late riser. So, always on awakening from sleep I used to encounter a world full of activity. But that morning when I finally woke up at about 8 o’clock, life was really strange. The roads were empty. Standing on the long wide verandah of our house, I found an extremely unusual sight; tap water flowing endlessly from the roadside municipal tap. Instead of the usual long queue there were no takers! Not a single shop open and no office goers on the street. Military convoys announcing curfew rules on loud speakers; the market and shopping complexes were declared closed for an indefinite period of time.

             We had less than average reason to be nervous. We had good stock of essential commodities in our house. In fact, the central room of our house had a huge reservoir of paddy - a ‘dhangola’ filled with a special quality ‘Bhatiwali’ paddy received from our farm. So ‘cooking’ and ‘eating’ schedule of our family was not disturbed for the next two days. But the frown of our elder’s eyebrows were turned into permanent fixtures as the schedule of curfew continued with an occasional relaxation for a few hours to provide tap water and essential items to the community.

             Possibly it was two days after that frightful night, two unexpected visitors came visiting us. Dada and his political heavy weight friend Daudda had braved the curfew and came to ask our welfare. Daudda, Dada’s college fellow was an important figure during election campaign of Awami League. Dada - a Muslim youth had gate crashed into our orthodox household and occupied the position of the eldest son.

             He used to address my mother as Ma and my father as ‘Kakababu’ - the Bengali equivalent of uncle. My mother sponsored his college education. Daudda and Dada were on a mission that day. Daudda was on his way to Benapole - the Indian border to avoid arrest by the Pakistani military. He advised Ma to vacate the house as soon as possible. Anxiety was writ large on his face and nervousness made him unusually vocal. “We are not going to take this insult lying down - we are going to fight” - he kept repeating the line times enough to create an impression on my mind. When they left - the atmosphere they left behind was gloomier than the one, they entered in.

             For the next few days, the routine of curfew and military patrol continued and the tension showed no signs of decline. On Friday, there were two hours of relief from curfew to allow the devout Muslims visit their mosque for Jummanamaz. My parents decided that the opportunity must be used to transfer us - my little brother and myself - to a safer destination - away from the hubbub of political activity. As a family, though we had always access to the best food and shelter, we were always starved of hard cash. Traveling for us was considered a special luxury and we had no fancy side bags or light suitcases suitable for short travel. So, when my mother was trying to pack our bare essentials she faced a difficulty. . So, ultimately our things a change of dress and a few text books were packed in a not so fashionable jute bag and I carried my favorite printed frock in a polythene pack, which was still wet.

             My mother decided to stay behind. There were some arguments between my parents regarding the issue but finally Baba lost the battle. My mother had raised the point of my mentally deranged Pischima (my father’s sister).

             Pishima was an exquisite beauty in her prime youth. My grandfather had groomed her well and provided her the best of education available at the time. A wonderful singer and artist, she had the privilege to be tutored by an English governess to hone her skill. In a corner of our house, remained the remains of an old piano on which she was an expert. But like a rose with thorns, she had a reputation for haughty temperament and pride. After my grandfather’s death, the same proud personality was given in marriage to an extremely wealthy gentleman, whose only drawback was a previous experience in marriage. The result was disaster. Within the same year Pishima had returned to her paternal home with full baggage except one thing - her mental sanity.

             I learnt later, that while the negotiations were on, my father was the only one to oppose the alliance. He had preferred a bachelor of modest means rather than the Kolkata based wealthy widower who also had two children from his first marriage. But my influential Doctor Dadu, my grandma’s elder brother, who also had the dubious distinction of marrying twice, had backed the proposal. He, by some intricate calculation had proved the point that an influential relative in the Indian part of Bengal would make things much easier for the uprooted family in their effort to grow new roots in Kolkata. My intelligent uncle and grandma had seen sound logic in the argument and the marriage took place. The already cash starved family had to sell the lands to match the pomp and show of the aristocratic bridegroom. However, the marriage lasted for four months only. My proud Pishima had made the supreme sacrifice of marrying a second-hand man for the sake of her brothers and sisters but her fragile neurological system failed her. One day, after a trivial argument with her in-laws she had packed her valuable jewelry in a box and came back to her paternal home.

             As a child, I had the impression that my mother hated her. It was my father who silently fulfilled all her unreasonable demands and defended her in the face of every opposition. That day, I saw the reverse. Ma did not want to leave her alone while my father was more worried about us - his children.

             Finally Ma won the battle. Khokan - my little brother, Baba and I started for the countryside, Bagerhat - the residence of my great Doctor Dadu - the influential elder brother of my Thakuma. We took a cycle rickshaw and reached the ferryghat at river Rupsa. While crossing the river in a ferry, I was in dual mood. Part of me was regretting to leave behind the anxious excitement of the city and was envious of Ma who would get to witness all the activity first hand. But the other part was excited too to visit the vast country house, Bashabati and experience the unlimited freedom from the supervision of my mother.

             On the other side of the river, there was a surprise awaiting us. Responding to the call of Awami League supremo - Sheikh Muziboor Rahman to liberate the country from the occupation West Pakistani dictators, the whole of East Pakistan was observing an indefinite strike or bandh. There was no school, no court no railways operating in the country to protest of the high handed behavior of the military ruler Mr. Yahia Khan, when he failed to honor the verdict of the general election. We were expecting no railway service. But that day, the train service from Khulna to Bagerhat was restored by public demand. There was no collection of tickets and we enjoyed the hour-long free ride through green countryside though Baba was extremely troubled because of Ma.



Bashabati


The small sub divisional town Bagerhat was famous for ‘Shut -Gumbaz’- a sixty-miner mosque. Though officially a holy place for Muslims, people from other faith also prayed there. The mosque also had two huge lakes with some unusual population. The lakes of Shut- Gumbaz had played home to some holy crocodiles where people used to offer live chickens on fulfillment of their wishes.

             My Dadu’s country house was at a village Bashabati, barely a mile away from the town. The entire village was practically inhabited by the scions of the same family. On reaching our destination we were greeted by curious relatives. Communication was virtually at a standstill and news traveled slowly in those days. People were aware of some unusual happenings at the divisional headquarters but were unable to feel its true intensity and implications. I was questioned repeatedly about the city’s atmosphere and was requested to give my assessment of the situation. The gesture made me feel extremely important and knowledgeable.

             Time slipped by at an easy pace there. Dadu had a palatial home and owned a number of lakes and orchards. There was a fresh water lake to be used for drinking purpose and also ponds for washing and cleanings. He owned well-maintained fruit and vegetable gardens as well as a few coconut plantations. His fruit gardens had rare varieties of mangoes and pomegranates. There was unlimited freedom of bathing in open water and secret foray’s into mango gardens during the slow afternoon hours; a virtual paradise for a prodigal schoolgirl. In addition, I had unexpected company . Another family was also forced to flee from Khulna and had taken shelter at my Dadu’s house. They had two girls of my age.

             My Didimoni (Dadu’s second wife) was paralyzed from waist down. But she used to supervise the family activity with an iron hand. She had imposed strict disciplines on us but we ducked her successfully.

            Almost every evening we used to visit and pray at Shut- Gumbaz along with Baba, who was visibly worried by the lack of communication from Khulna. But, I, in my innocence could never estimate how deeply disturbed he was. Whenever, somebody arrived from Khulna he used to visit him for information. Through these sources we learnt that Ma had left Khulna and was living with the family of a distant relative, on the other side of the river near our country house Naihati. Barring the two hours relief period for maintaining the essential activities in the morning and afternoon the city was still under regular curfew. Ma was the only lady, who crossed the river everyday in the morning and visited the city to cook for our Pischima. Baba faced a dilemma. He could not leave us in the care of his aged maternal uncle, at disturbed times and join Ma in her duty.He took to thinking aloud and often scolded Ma for her stubbornness, though Ma was nowhere nearby to react. Occasionally, we also worried for Ma. Khokan, my little brother specially missed Ma. But I had company, lots of games and leisure and I was busy in learning new things.

             One of my new friends Shova, was a superb player of chess. Whenever, we had a game, she defeated me within no time. There, I saw a dying person for the first time in my life. Nutuda’s mother, a second cousin of my father, breathed her last in my presence. Her two sons were attending a meeting in the next room then. Later, I learnt they were busy with a far more important activity - than to witness their mother’s last moments. Nutuda was a member of the Naxalite party. I was shocked. Not by the sad incident but by the casual manner with which her sons accepted the event. Exactly eighteen days after our arrival at Bashabati, we had a pleasant surprise. Ma had come from Khulna. She had hired a three- wheeler straight from Naihati and carried two huge trunks and two suitcases. I was expecting my harmonium too. But she did not include it in the family valuables. Reunion with her was a happy event but could not be enjoyed long. Ma’s departure from Khulna was not voluntary. Situations compelled her. From Naihati she used to visit our city house to cook for Pischima. Pischima had distinct preferences and specification for her meals. She liked fresh cooked meals and wanted the exact quantity to be cooked at a time. In spite of Ma’s every effort to convince her to preserve the leftovers of lunch for dinner she used to throw the extra food right away. During night, the house used to be under the care of Rowapishi. Rowapishi, though a maid servant by designation was practically our closest relative. She was introduced into the family at the age of fourteen by my Thakuma and had stayed on since then. Her maid-servantly services were available only for one family; ours. Still, she was subjected to certain reservations and had no entry into the kitchen. My grandma, a strict vegetarian by virtue of her widowhood, used to take rice items only for lunch and she preferred to cook her own food. In case of emergencies, the honor of cooking her lunch was bestowed on Ma, which she did after taking special bath and strict precaution. Even Pishima, her own mentally challenged daughter knew it instinctively that the kitchen was out of bounds. So, when Ma asked Pishima to cook her own food, she refused flatly to enter the kitchen and cornered Ma into a tighter situation.

             Ma had hired a Rickshawala - who took her regularly through the intricate by-lanes to our city house. During her regular forays into our house, she had sorted out the property documents. She had also collected other jewelry; valuable domestic items like the radio and bank papers and transferred them gradually to our relatives home where she had been staying temporarily.

             Shocking news awaited her when she visited the ferry-ghat the last time. The ferryman had refused her the journey. When she insisted, the news was broken to her. City had received a mortal blow. Seven men all belonging to the minority Hindu community were lying dead on the main highway in front of our house. There were people among them who were my father’s friend. City was agog with reports of indiscriminate arrest and detention. People took them as a conscious effort to scare the political activists against the military dictators. But this incident was difficult to relate in the context of the current political scenario. All seven dead people were Hindus and belonged to the comparatively affluent class. Ma was terrified. Still she persuaded the ferryman to take her to the opposite side at least for the last time.

             At home, Ma found Rowapishi in a state of shock. Her face looked blanched and pale with fear. Rowapishi was never a brave person. She had always lived in the shade of my mother’s protection.

             In the heydays of his prime youth, my grandfather had purchased large chunks of land in the prime locations of the city, which had just started growing. My grandma had dreamt of building four adjacent houses for her four sons. By the time, I was born, two of them were already sold. Of the remaining two, our city house was built on one and the other was still vacant. On that vacant plot Thakuma had built a cottage for Rowapishi and her Oriya husband, who worked as cook in a workers mess. To get some extra income, she used to keep a cow, which provided milk for her only son as well as our family. At times of natural disasters-flood, riot or communal disturbance, her whole family used to take shelter in our main house. She used to feel protected in our presence. But this time, she and her family were in charge of our house along with our mentally deranged Pishima. At about 10 o’clock that night, they heard the sound of knocking at the door. Terrified, Rowapischi had taken shelter behind our dhangola and refused to respond to the call. The doors of our house were made of sturdy Burma teak and did not give away even under the assault of heavy military boots. In the central room, my mentally deranged Pischima was also absolutely quiet. Disappointed, the group had gone away only to reappear after an hour. That time, somebody had spoken in Bengali and introduced himself as Mahadev Babu. Mahadev Babu was the name of a close acquaintance of my father, and a prominent personality of the Hindu community. The caller had requested Baba to come out and join the group. Rowapishi was so terrified she did not answer the second call also. At about 12 o’clock, the silence of the night was broken by an ominous sound; sharp groaning of dying men had followed the sound of gunfire. Next morning, the bodies were found on the road with their hands tied behind their backs. However, by the time, Ma could reach the house, the roads had been cleared but Rowapishi who had seen the dead bodies was mentally paralyzed. Ma had advised Rowapishi to vacate the house at her earliest and go to some village. Rowapishi had cried. She wanted to be with Ma, but Ma, she a guest of another family could not find a solution to the problem. Hazi Sahab also advised Rowapishi to leave the city.

             Hazi Saheb, our nearest neighbor was a prominent businessman of the city. He, a migrant from West Bengal, was sympathetic to our pain and sufferings and could understand our feelings of feeling unwanted. Though at normal times our neighborly interactions were less than amiable he always stood by us in our hours of need. Before leaving the house for the final time, my mother had requested Mrs. Hazi to help my Pishima if needed.

             The selective killing of people from the minority community had created a feeling of greater insecurity among the Hindus. The political event was slowly turning into a communal issue. Hazi Sahab was one of the first few to note this point and advised Ma to stay with her family. Amongst the prized possessions that Ma carried from Khulna, one was our Sony radio set. So every evening, the elders of the family gathered round the battery operated radio to listen to BBC news, believed to be the only impartial source of political news in the country. It is through that channel, we learnt that people were moving towards India, the other side of the border. But my Dadu, who was also a leading medical practitioner of the Khulna division could not see any real danger. It was common knowledge that political upheavals usually took communal shade - that after taking some initial toll subsided. So everybody in the subdivision thought it to be a passing phase.

             The Hindus, though formed a minor fraction of the society, was an integral part of East Pakistan. Seen as opportunists and hypocrites, they nevertheless performed the precious role of sacrificial lamb in Pakistan politics. Every Hindu family had Muslim family friends and if there were overt aggression against the community, there were covert supports too.

             So, in spite of the ominous news of selective violence from Khulna, life in Bashabati went on in the same slow pace. My mother, widely renowned for her culinary skill, was requested to enter the kitchen house and prepared some of her specialties for Dadu’s delectation.

             Didimoni -Dadu’s second wife kept on supervising his eating sessions and various fish and vegetable items kept in a series of bowls of different shapes and sizes, arranged like satellites round the main rice plate continued to be served in its usual grandeur. Dadu went on tasting a little from every bowl and leaving the rest for somebody else’s favor and Didimoni routinely pressing him to take a little more from every item before he switched on to the new bowl.

             So, all of a sudden when one afternoon, a group of young men carrying old-fashioned rifles entered the kitchen from the backside of the house, everybody was shocked beyond belief. No, the armed people were not Pakistani military men. They were party workers of the local branch of Awami League. Before vanishing into thin air, they had informed the family that an encounter with the local Muslim league was imminent for which we should be ready. That evening, another shocking news awaited us. A casual acquaintance from Khulna informed that our house had been looted. According to the information the looting was initiated by military. They broke open the house and took the valuables away. But local people carried utensils and furniture and paddy the lesser valuables, away - and some of them were our neighbors.

             Ma was almost paralyzed with shock. Each and every single item of domestic importance was handpicked by her. Before her marriage, once Baba had decided to migrate to India. The occasion provided a rare opportunity to display the materialistic side of his character though he was basically philosophical by nature. As a preliminary preparation for the migration, he had transferred all our valuable possessions to India, in the safe custody of my uncle. The items included silver, brass and stone crockery, bedrolls and even the dressing mirror. The great plan failed when Baba was made to marry to save his family’s special status - ‘Kaulinya’. According to the social pattern of the time, it was necessary that a girl from special high-ranking caste should be brought as wife of the eldest male offspring of the family - to retain the special socio-religious status called ‘Kaulinya’. My mother’s family had no money but belonged to the special caste, which was high in demand. So, when Ma finally entered the aristocratic household as its mistress, the house was virtually empty except for some heavy furniture. It was she, who, with the meager income of her husband had handpicked every domestic item and given it some semblance of a modern household. She was too disturbed to react to the news. I was also pained. Some four months before the episode, I had acquired my first double reed harmonium, the most valuable independent possession of my life. Initially I found it difficult to accept the reality - and took it as a cruel joke. But my mother’s face indicated otherwise. She had lost her spontaneity. In contrast, Baba, the nervous one of the family absorbed the news with the least visible manifestation. An avid listener of the radio and reader of newspapers he must have had some foreboding of the imminent danger. There were endless rounds of discussion between the elders to which we, the children had no access. Only Baba took some pain to explain the situation to me and kept me abreast of the latest developments. He was optimistic that Bagerhat might escape the wrath of military for one reason. Bagerhat, the site of Shut Gumbaz, the holy dargah of highly respected Pir Khan Jahan Ali was expected to be spared because of its divine grace. People thought the devout Muslim military would not dare to desecrate it. But they did and the Bagerhati’s provided the excuse for it.

             During the days of initial euphoria of the landslide victory, Awami League had designed a flag for East Pakistan. It was dark green in color, symbolizing the greenery of highly fertile East Bengal having a red rising sun with a map of the province in the middle. When the West Pakistani leader, Bhutto, had found the idea of sitting on the opposition bench unacceptable. Awami League had asked its supporters to hoist the separatist flag in protest. The flag, which had become immensely popular overnight, had also been flying for a while from our rooftop. The day BBC reported military intervention at Dacca my father had taken it away and hidden it somewhere in the closet. It was this symbol that had become the prestige point at Bagerhat. Local Awami League office had infuriated the opponent Muslim League leaders by hoisting the flag. The bitter loss in the election had already made the Muslim League bitter to the Awami League organization, which had grown into the country like a phoenix. Muslim league was an old party and its leaders had high social weightage. A highly renowned and respected medical practitioner Dr. Muzaffar was the patron of Bagerhat Muslim League. Rumour had it that the octogenarian himself had reported the incident to divisional headquarter at Khulna and requested the military authority to take action. The incident took place almost one week after my mother had rejoined us.

             The time was late afternoon. I saw a series of rickshaws approaching towards our Bashabati residence. Dadu had received prior information at his clinic and had directed all the rickshaws he could find towards his home and sent us instructions to vacate the house immediately. My mother was the first one to get ready. But the preparation came to a standstill when Didimoni, the paralyzed mistress of the great household refused flatly to accompany us. She preferred dying in the hands of Pakistani military rather than cause her only son Kaku any inconvenience. In her dwelling house Bashabati she had specially constructed bathrooms and toilets to suit her need. Minidi, the teenage daughter of the family cook, Baren, attended her round the clock. To live in an unknown place, without the benefit of those special facilities was something unthinkable to Didimoni. But it was totally unacceptable to both the guests and the family members to leave the mistress behind and move towards a safe destination. Ultimately the responsibility of convincing her fell on to Ma.

             Even today, I clearly remember how she convinced Didimoni that day.

             “Look at me. I have lost all my material possessions. Still I am moving forward and taking my children with me. Neither your husband nor your son will move a single step without you. Do you want to endanger their life with your obstinacy” - Ma had virtually attacked her.

             Didimoni had rubbed her eyes with the ends of her saree but understood the situation.

             “What about the daily puja?” she had asked. The family had a separate puja room where the ritual of daily evening prayer was performed at the moment of twilight with unfailing accuracy.

             “God can afford to miss being worshipped for a short while. But if we all die, there will be nobody left to perform the evening ritual for a long time to come” Ma had retorted.

             That day, Didimoni had performed her evening prayer at least one hour in advance. The sweet aroma of ‘dhup’ and sandalwood oil had filled up the room at least one hour ahead of the official times. Then the series of rickshaws started moving. In one of them were Ma, Khokan and I.



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