The Night After The Storm
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|Photo taken from Google Images|
Parul was the first one who saw it. She had been waiting outside their hut the entire day, hovering around their calf in the hope that it would give a bit more dung to make into cakes. But the calf had been strangely nervous that day; tossing its small head and moving around the post to which it was tethered.
After finishing her morning chores, Parul hung around the tiny stretch of land before their house, collecting flowers and spinning out a game to pass the time.
She was a ‘Phool-wali’ that day, a woman who sold flowers. At the same time, she was also the ‘Memsaab’ down from Kolkata who was in search of beautiful flowers untouched by the pollution of her city. Varying between the coarse, local language used in her place and the polished Bangla she had seen Heroines speak on Gopi Kaku’s black and white television, she had great fun playing the roles of the two imaginary women.
She paused in her game only to make faces to her neighbor’s kid who purposefully came to show off his school-going status every day. On asking why she wasn’t allowed to go to school anymore, she had received a slap in answer. Her dreams of going to school had gone with her father who had taken his life when his crops failed two years back. Parul had been 8 then.
Her mother was never the same after the incident; she relapsed into long stretches of inactivity and silence frequently. The tiny piece of land in their village Dumardari they had leased for cultivation was their only income.
The daily inventory games were not too bad but Parul missed school. Just as she missed her Baba. As she was wrapping up the day’s play, she felt a cold, wet thing hit her face. She blinked in rapid succession, and lifted her hand just in time to catch another one on her palm. Her eyes widened at the size; they were as big as 2 Rupee coins. She glanced up then, to see clouds as black as soot rolling in.
“Ma!” she called excitedly, rushing in. She announced her find and started dancing, “Brishti hobe, brishti hobe!” unable to contain her joy. Her excitement on the possibility of rain was wiped clean at the sight of her mother’s face though; she had a look similar to the one she had sported when the news of her Baba had come. She tugged at her mother’s arm asking what the matter was but she never got a reply. Instead, her mother dragged her inside, collected all their belongings in one lump and waited, with a haunted look in her eyes.
Wind howled around their hut like a hundred handed monster that had come to rip their lives apart. Trees clashed as if in a wrestling match, intent to bring each other down. And it rained, Oh how it rained!
Parul wordlessly pointed to a stream of water that trickled down a small fissure in their mud hut. Her mother averted her eyes away from it, drawing her head into her lap. But Parul couldn’t take her eyes away. She was entranced by it- that small river that slowly crawled from the walls and seeped beneath the mat they were sitting on. When she next lifted her eyes to trace it, it wasn’t there anymore. It was replaced by two rivers much larger, much wider, much faster and within the blink of her eye, they were beneath her.
Everything became cold then, not a surface of their hut was dry anymore. When the first tree hit their house and shook her very bones, Parul started feeling afraid. It hadn’t been like this the last time. Last time Baba had been with them and his powerful build was enough to comfort her from all storms that came and went.
Parul hid her face in her mother’s damp sari, trying to gain comfort from her body smell but soon there was no smell except that of the earth along with the water that was spinning out of control to cleanse it. The next time Parul dared to lift her eyes up, there were no rivers anymore. The rivers had all conspired to swallow their house till it became one.
Bit by bit it crumpled, the hut her Baba had built so painstakingly year after year every time nature found its prey. By the time the roof was on their heads, Parul was shivering with cold, her fingers interlaced with her mother’s frozen blue.
She lost count of days it rained; it seemed like a night with no morning in its tow. Her mother’s prayers had fallen silent after a while so she picked up from there, offering all her rag dolls to all the Gods she knew in turn.
When the storm finally ended, night had fallen.
Her attempts to get a coherent action from her mother failed; the haunted look in her eyes on seeing the ruins they were left in wouldn’t just go away. Parul tried her best not to cry but the sight of their hut buried in the ground floating in water weakened all her resolution. She glanced one last time at her mother before leaving, her small steps hurrying her away from the place and she never once looked back.
The next morning, when Parul’s mother finally realizing her daughter was missing forced her weakened body outside, she was met with a sight that brought tears to her eyes.
Parul was patting the place where the wall of their hut had once stood with fresh mud, refusing to get defeated by the water that seemed to engulf her each attempt. Her hands worked with a feverish determination and her eyes told that she had been at her task the whole night.
Feeling her mother’s eyes on her, she looked up and smiled and that moment, her mother’s heart lit up with warmth she had not felt in years.