May I

May I

The doors had been left open as relatives and  other acquaintances once known to Mr. Chandpal Banik had begun to trickle in. The old man was well known face in the neighbourhood. The people knew the genial man , more of a social service worker than a sarkari babu.

The COVID 19 infection had pulled the last straw. He first felt breadthless, and being a patient of hypertension, his condition aggravated and ultimately led to his demise.

The atmosphere within the prayer hall was sombre. Mrs. Sheila Banik had become inconsolable; and was comforted by her son and daughter, who acted as her pillers of support.

The chanting of the mantras, the smoke of agarbattis , rajanigandha and marigold along with dhoop had made the environment refreshing. 

Among the relatives, acquaintances and friends, there sat a lady who seemed to resemble Late Mr. Banik . Many thought her to be one of the relatives of Mr. Banik. But none present tried to know more about the situation 

Some discussed how Mr. Banik had become a man of worth coming up from a not very creamy layer of the society. His family had fled the east Pakistan before partition and first settled in Allahabad.  Later , some members of the family had migrated to Lucknow, including Mr. Banik. 

The Baniks had amassed a huge area of land and prestige before having to flee east Pakistan. Once within India, they were without a direction. 

It was sheer determination and will that hardened Chandpal Banik and he managed to secure good position in civil services examination.

As the ceremony drew to a close, most of the people had departed. Among those who remained was the lady resembling Late Chandpal Banik.

The daughter, Girija Shome went towards the lady and sat beside her.

‘May I know who you are? I can’t help but find striking resemblance between our late father and yourself. Do we know you?’

The lady smiled and said, ‘I am here to pay my last respects to my father. ‘

‘What!’ Girija was struck by a thunderbolt!

‘Yes. Your father was also my father. We had been seperated during the carnage. My mother and myself were hiding in a cow shed and as the shed was put on fire, we had to flee and run to one of our neighbour’s houses. None of them had survived, but both of us found a temporary shelter there.

Later, we managed to find a passage to West Bengal and began living in Habra. Our father thought us dead as he could not find us after going back to Bangladesh after Bangladesh became independent.

It is then he married your mother. And later, while on a tour to West Bengal’s districts, he found us. But of course, he could not inform you about us. But your mother knew about us, and it was she who informed me about father’s demise.’

After all guests had departed, there were exchange of memories.

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