No Distance As Far Away As Yesterday- Part1

Written By

Payal Mukherjee

No distance as far away-part1 Loading

It takes ten minutes to reach Anwar Shah Road from my house in Tollygunj even now. Since 1992, very little has changed on this stretch of road. From Bangur Hospital, behind which I used to stay, I would walk down to the Tipu Sultan Mosque, my 14 year old trustworthy legs carrying me there in no time. There you could turn right into Anwar Shah Road and walk along till you reached Nabina Cinema. That is where my friend Mahjabeen used to meet me. The Strong One, Mahjabeen stayed in one of the run-down buildings in the colony in that area with her parents.

They were not very well to do, her folks. Her father was a stenographer and her mother used to sew clothes for a living. She had an older brother but he had already passed out of school and had moved to Mumbai, probably with dreams of becoming a film hero, but instead ended up working for a cloth merchant, in a place I’d not heard of at that time. And yet, she used to study in the quintessential middle class Bengali medium school with enough respectability in that era. They managed that for her.

The school bus of Kamala Girls would drop her first, since her stop came before mine. But my mother was a working woman, and I, an only child. So I could not get down with Mahjabeen because the bus Dada would rat on me – I knew, I would get down at Bangur Hospital, my stop, and run all the way back to her stop where she would be waiting for me. Then, knowing we were breaking a thousand rules, we would giggle all the way to the phuchka stall, cutting through narrow lanes, huffing and puffing as we gobbled those spicy, tangy, watery globes of delight- our day was made.

I would, of course, have less than two hours for such mischief, but I was the school athlete at that age, and had unending energy. I would run all the way back and reach home before 5 pm, well before my mother rang the door-bell and started asking me about school. My parents were hard working, well educated folk. My father was a civil engineer with one of those companies which was doing very well building roads in the city at that time. My mother was a telephone operator with one of the bigger Marwari companies in central Calcutta. My parents were the good moralistic Bengali Brahmin couple, who brought up their daughter to be independent, with the right amount of stress on music and art, like every good Bengali girl. My parents were very religious and they held Lakshmi Puja and Saraswati Puja in the house, with the mantras chanted by my own father, the local kids and myself sitting in a semi circle as the fragrant smoke from the dhup dhuno made us heady and sleepy at the same time.

My parents did not know about Mahjabeen.

*

School was a different kind of place though. No one cared what kind of names we had or what community it made one belong to. No one cared what our parents did. We all wore the same uniforms. Purdah among Muslim women and girls was not common in Calcutta in that time. We all looked the same. All brown limbs and white socks and black Cherry Blossom shined shoes. Hair neatly parted at the center with two pony tails or plaits. There is a certain strength in the innocent equality of the school uniform which makes the wearers invincible to the twisted power of the political mind. We truly were incorruptible.

December was pretty mild that year. All warm and cool. One spends December afternoons sprawled on sunny verandahs, dozing off as the warmth envelopes the body ever so subtly, like a coy lover. Not for Calcutta December, the bite of the cold or the pinch of the sun. Our school afternoons didn’t provide us the luxury of a nap, of course, but we would lounge during our tiffin break in the molten sunshine on our school field and talk.

Younger girls play, 14 year old girls talk.

We sat around this particular afternoon, and talked about other things- like where to get good scrunchies for our hair in Gariahat and our impending second terminal exams and about Ayodhya. We lazily moved from one topic to another and gently landed on this one, with the easy camaraderie of childhood, without a thought about what religion meant to the adults. That did not matter in our little slice of Utopia. Little did I know then, in the safe warm hands of authority and schoolgirl-hood, that this would be one of the last days of life as we would know it, as I would know it.

Those days, a lot of us were not allowed to watch TV at home, but we had read in the morning newspapers of the Kar Sevaks who had entered that city in thousands, hundreds of thousands. Most of them did not know why they were there. But trouble was brewing, and even we knew that this kind of trouble was like a long line of dominoes lined all across the country, north to south, east to west, poised, ready for that one little push. Mahjabeen never talked much in company, she preferred to stay in the shadows but that day she repeated hearsay from her neighbourhood. People were afraid she said. She said ‘people’ but what she really meant was Muslims.

Was she starting to get afraid as well? Even while being surrounded by us, her closest friends, was she beginning to feel the strain? Had she started seeing us differently already?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

My life is currently run by two little monsters, one 9 and one almost 2 years old. My passions are reading and writing. While I read almost every waking free hour, my writing has taken a hit after my second daughter was born, and I am trying to slowly but surely get back to it. My big dream is to, someday, get around to writing my book. My job is to be a home CEO, a teacher, a doctor as well as nurse-on-call, a driver, a sometimes-chef, a hairstylist, and a mender of clothes and cuts and hearts. My 'profession', on the other hand, is executive search/ head-hunting and I am defined in the ongoing parlance of the age, as a work-from-home mom.

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