My balcony overlooks a lively park with little children chasing or tugging at each other. How beautiful is the gift of a real childhood in a place that has always been home! I admire the flamboyant flame trees around the park and try to recall the smell of a distant, forbidden land that was once home.
I thank God for the gift of new life. I had never imagined, I would live in my own home with two bedrooms, a cosy living room, washrooms with mirrors, basins and all things luxury. Secure, without fear. How can I not be grateful to Prithwish, who did not care about my background or educational qualifications before committing to marry me?! I did not have the privilege to use my judgement and say ‘no’ to his proposal, even though my uneducated mind could very well see just pity in his eyes.
At 13, I was fighting against poverty and against the wrath of bigotry, for I, like others in my community were now enemies in our own homeland. I remember how they would visit to extort money and crops from my impoverished maternal uncle just because of his religion. How Prabha (my uncle’s daughter) and I would spend nights camouflaging ourselves under tree leaves, just so we were not taken away as loots! I remember how my friends Charulata, Vinodini, Malati, suddenly went missing, never to return home. I remember how we lived off panta bhat, night after night until all that remained was the watery starch, for the succeeding days.
My maternal uncle mortgaged his one bigha land, for our safety and packed Prabha and me into a crowded bus to Calcutta, across the border. Mama took us to his relatives’ house in North Calcutta. I bid a teary goodbye to my mama, who did not want to take shelter in another country.
‘Baba, I will go with you’, Prabha, ran after mama. And, I was left behind to face the world alone, like most orphans.
In my new abode, I learnt to cook, to embroider, to read and write. I would write letters to Prabha. I had to feel that I was sharing my life with her even if the letters only sat around in a secret corner of my trunk.
The ladies of the family showered me with just the right attention that a refugee deserved. I eased their burden of household chores, in return. It is at their place that Prithwish had seen me in one of his summer vacations.
Prithwish is home early today. ‘I have a surprise for you in the garage’, he says. I stare in disbelief. I see a lady, roughly, my age, standing in the garage, holding a grey suitcase. Her smile tells me, ‘It is my Prabha’.
‘I had never imagined, I would live to really see you again’, Prabha hugs me tight. Our tears of joy become one.