In 1967, a spark erupted in a village called Naxalbari in north Bengal. Within just three years, it had turned into a widespread prairie fire. Its blazing red flames spread across India. The flames scorched the inertia, cowardice and regressiveness of people as the youth of the society flung away every kind of attachment to self-interest and shed their blood in self-sacrifice. A world-famous leader had likened them to a ‘morning sun’.
This time of uprising against exploitation and deprivation, was a terribly hostile one for Bimala, who was a very ordinary village woman. It was a beastly and destructive time. It seemed as if an enormous quantity of poisonous gas had accumulated somewhere deep beneath the soil, and it was that which was now exploding incessantly everywhere. The body of the old society was being bloodied and torn to shreds. The entire city of Calcutta was trembling in fear. The stormy wind of Naxalbari shook the locality of Jadavpur, making everyone shudder. It seemed all the stately buildings there were about to be pulled down and ground to dust. The city folk were living in the grip of terror and trepidation. Irrespective of whether they were employed or unemployed, traders or customers, wealthy or destitute, dark-skinned or fair-skinned, high-born or low-born—the hearts of every kind of person trembled. The destructive and rebellious decade of the seventies had trudged and finally arrived in the city. The dawn of the new decade brought hope for some, and was a cause of anxiety for others. The seventies carved out a special place for itself among all the decades. Unbeknownst to anyone, under cover of the darkness of night, some people, full of conviction, had painted the slogan on wall after wall in Calcutta—shottorer doshok muktir doshok! The seventies is the decade of liberation!
Come morning, the relentless, hideous sound of country-bombs exploding began. As the day progressed towards night, the sound went from loud to deafening. The air was thick with the acrid smell of gunpowder. And in the darkness of night, black police vans with beaming searchlights raced through the main thoroughfares. They surrounded one locality after another on the pretext of carrying out search operations, and pounced upon the people there. If they spotted any youth aged between eighteen and twenty-two, they dragged him into the police van. Any youth was now suspect in their eyes, he was viewed as an offender. It was a lawless time indeed.
In such a contagious time, Bimala’s eldest son seemed to be changing by the day. He never smiled, never spoke. He seemed to be grave and angry all the time. It was not at all clear why he was angry, or who he was angry with. It was as if he had grown unrecognizably in the span of just a few days. He had become so tall that he could not be measured, and he seemed to have acquired a depth that was unfathomable. And so Bimala was very scared and anxious.
The times were not at all right. As though some kind of inauspicious preparation was afoot everywhere. A frenzy, very similar to the time of the communal riots following the Hazratbal incident, could be discerned among most people. People seemed to be changing somehow. In the way an ant sniffed the air and sensed approaching rain, a poor mother trembled in fear whenever processions of people holding flags aloft thick lathis thronged the nearby lanes and streets and the menacing cries of ‘Lorai lorai lorai chai, We want to fight, fight, fight’ rent the air. She seemed to realise that the time of many mothers’ laps being rendered bereft was fast approaching.
Jibon had come home today after a long time. There was no certainty nowadays regarding his movements. Who knows where he went, what he did or what he ate. He wasn’t working anywhere now. When he was working, the family’s condition had been somewhat sound. Now, once again, they were all in the grip of the octopus called poverty. Garib Das did not get any work nowadays. No one called him for work. He used to sit in front of a ration shop. He carried a load or two and earned a rupee or a rupee-and-a-half, which was too little to feed the family.
Bimala’s heart wept seeing her son. What had he done to his appearance? Observing him, it seemed he was in some deep pain. Even if he never said so, it wasn’t difficult for his mother to see that he was hungry. There was a little bit of wheat-flour at home, she quickly made a roti for him with that. She gave him some salt and a green chilli to eat it with. Jibon was silent. He ate the roti in silence. Bimala was not so worried about her other two sons; about whether they got enough to eat or not, at least they were in front of her eyes. All her worries were regarding Jibon. His altered, strange behaviour made Bimala very anxious.
Garib Das’s family now had a decent shelter to stay in temporarily. There hadn’t been enough space for everyone in the railside shanty, and besides, the railway authorities had also threatened to demolish the shanties if the dwellers did not leave voluntarily. But the new place was large enough for everyone to lie down and sleep.
There was a gentleman who lived in Jorhat, in Assam. The Bongal khedao, or ‘drive out Bengalis’ movement in Assam had turned fierce of late. The homes of Bengalis were being burnt down by the Assamese, they were being beaten up, wounded and even murdered. Seeing the persecution, the gentleman realised that he would not be able to live in Assam for much longer. He would have to wind up his business affairs there and flee to West Bengal. In that case, the foremost requirement was a roof over his head. A relative of his by marriage lived in Calcutta. Through him, he became acquainted with Hemanta babu of Ramakrishnapur, and with the assistance of Hemanta babu, he purchased four katthas of land in Shyampur colony, which was beside Raja Subodh Chandra Mallick Road, right opposite the colony in Ramkrishnapur.
(Extracted with permission from The Nemesis by Manoranjan Byapari, published in English by Eka, an imprint of Westland Books.)