Friday, September 18, 2009


Have you ever wondered
If, how, when and where,
You would ever find true love
And find someone who cared
Sometimes it takes a lifetime
And sometimes you never do,
But special things take a while
If they’re really true.
It didn’t take a lifetime,
I know it was all worth the time.
You’ve changed my whole life around
You’ve picked me up from where I fell down
You love me unconditionally
So real and so true
You’ve made me strong when I was weak
All our promises, I promise to keep
You bring me joy and happiness
In everything you do
You’ve taught the truth behind my lies
You’ve been the tears behind my cries
You’ve shown me emotions I never thought I’d feel
For all this, I know my feelings are real
My one wish, that I pray stays true
My love, I hope, is forever you.

Prateep Basu

A Journey to Hell and Back

The lamp was flickering from the past few seconds. It had run out of oil and Tara had to reluctantly pack up her books. Living in a village was tough, especially when power cuts could be for as long as a week. “When, the hell, are you going to sleep?” her aunt yelled from beneath her blanket. Tara was used to such bickering, so she didn’t pay heed to her and continued with her work.Ever since her parents death, she had been living with her paternal uncle and aunt. Her medical entrance examination was just a day away, and she didn’t have proper sleep for the past few days, courtesy the poor power condition. “Get some sleep or else you won’t be able to catch tomorrow’s train.” It was her uncle who spoke this time. She finished arranging her books and quietly slipped under her torn blanket as the lamp went off, gasping for one last drop of oil…

The bright morning sun, accompanied by the calls of the birds awoke Tara from her sleep. The train was scheduled to arrive atnine in the morning, but she seldom trusted correct railway timings. It took twenty minutes of brisk walking to reach the station from her place. Her uncle had left for the fields on his bicycle, so walking was the only option left with her. It was already eight thirty, so she had to hurry up. It took her only five minutes to wash her face and pack bags, and it was quite an achievement, considering that her aunt was yelling at her constantly. Ever since her parents died in a bus accident, she had been living with her relatives. They weren’t very nice to her, but she didn’t mind them, for she was focused to become a doctor. Her aspirations to become a doctor were fuelled by the memories of the unattended Brahmaputra drowned bodies of her parents.

She lived in a small hilly village of Assam. No girl from her place had even dreamt of pursuing higher education. The tradition there was to marry of the girl child with huge amounts of money and gold as soon as she turned fifteen. For her aunt, the medical entrance exam was wastage of two hundred rupees, but for her, it was the sweat of two laborious years. It was her life, the life she had dreamt of ever since she was a kid, a life away from the gory violence of her place, where she could live peacefully and independently. She ran the whole way till the station. Gasping for breath, she enquired about the train to Guwahati. The station master replied nonchalantly, “Left two minutes ago…it was the last train for today anyway. You better board a bus.” She couldn’t believe her ears. She gaped at the huge wall clock that hung from the ceiling of the platform. “After all, it’s only a thirty second stop” he added, looking amusedly at Tara’s expression.

Guwahati was around eleven hours from her village, and the unpredictable weather could add few more hours to the already tedious journey. Her exam was scheduled to be held there at nine o’clock next morning. If she went back now, she would be laughed at by those in numerous people of her village, who had damned her pursuits of becoming a doctor. She had some two hundred rupees with her. Closing her eyes, she pondered over her options. And the next moment, she was at the bus stop.

The ride was rough, courtesy the pot-holed roads of the countryside. But that did not deter her from enjoying the scenic beauty from the window. The Brahmaputra and its tributaries kept crossing by. She stared at the blue hills, elated by their splendour. The greenery was exquisite, yet frightening. She had never been away from her village, and had it not been her determination to become a doctor, she would never have.

“Are you going till Guwahati?” the person sitting next to her asked. She nodded in reply. The man looked to be in his early forties, and had a bald patch running at the centre of his head. She shifted uneasily on her seat. Ever since she was a child, she was instructed not to talk to strangers. And she was mature enough to know why…Insurgency had torn Assam into numerous fragments, on the basis of caste, creed, region, language and many such petty issues. The situation was such that no one could be trusted, not even close relatives. And being a lower caste Bengali, she had to be extra cautious. The person next to her kept on talking. Apparently, he was also going till Guwahati, to meet his son Varun. She maintained her distance and gave a few nods and smile, to make him feel that she was listening.

It had started raining; hence the bus was moving at a snail-like pace. She drifted into sleep, listening to the sweet sounds that raindrops made when they fell on leaves.

“Everyone evacuate the bus.” A deep voice commanded. She opened her eyes to find chaos all around. Everyone looked terrified, and the bus was standing still. She saw silhouettes of masked men, standing outside with weapons. “What’s going on?” she whispered to the old man. She didn’t want to believe that such a catastrophe had struck her, like a bolt of lightning from nowhere.

“They are from the Assam rifles; and they are looking for non-Assamese people to hold them hostage, so that they can negotiate with the government for their men.” He replied gravely. “But how will they know who are non-Assamese?” she asked. She heard gunshots and a scream. A chill of fear ran through her spine. Not like this, she thought. Everyone started getting down in a hurry. Babies were crying as well as their mothers, but both knew that mercy was never a word in these terrorist’s dictionary. They had stopped the bus at a dhaba, near Dimapur. It was raining heavily, and they were made to group under a tree. Eight terrorists were assigned as guards for them, and the leader was inside the dhaba. Tara was shivering, both from fear as well as cold. She was drenched, and to add to her miseries, she was hungry.

“What’s your name?” the old man asked softly.

“Tara Mandal” she replied, slouching to warm herself.

“Look, this is why parents shouldn’t leave kids alone here.” He spoke more to himself than her. “My son was a very bright student, so I’d sent him to Guwahati for college. Yesterday, I got a call from the cops that he had been arrested in connection with the recent blasts there. I don’t know whether their accusation is true or not, but one thing that I know is that he is my only son and I must protect him.” He looked concerned and determined to save his son.

“Don’t worry, he’ll be alright. God will help us” she said assuringly.

“God left this place long time ago” he said, looking at the sky. “And I’ll leave too like others, once I get my son back.” Meanwhile, the terrorists were enquiring about each and everyone’s identity. Soon, they came for them. “Bishwas Das” the old man spoke,showing his identity card. He spoke in crisp Assami, pleading for benevolence. The terrorist, after confirming turned towards her. She stood transfixed. Fear gripped her like a python.

“She is my daughter!” Mr. Das exclaimed, hugging her protectively. The terrorists gazed suspiciously for a few moments before finally drawing away.

It had stopped raining by the evening. She was sobbing continuously, thinking of her fate. Most of the people had dozed off, primarily due to hunger.

“How much can you risk for reaching Guwahati by tomorrow morning?” Mr. Das whispered. She looked at him curiously. He wasn’t looking the calm and jovial person that he seemed to be in the morning.

“What do you mean?” she asked intently.

“Maybe I can sneak past them, like catch them off their guard…do you get me?” he asked hurriedly. She wasn’t sure whether he was in his senses or not. But she didn’t like the thought of her being torn apart by bullets after being so close to her ambition of becoming a doctor. She looked around to see whether anyone was eavesdropping on their conversation, because if someone was, then she would be in greater trouble. She was missing her home, and she found this strange because she had always wanted to go to some faraway place, ever since her parents died…

“Hello! This girl, right here” Mr. Das cried loudly, pointing at Tara to the nearest terrorist guard. He turned towards us confusedly, with his gun pointing at Mr. Das’ chest.

“She is not Assamese! Please take her, and leave us! We are innocent people, your people!” he stressed on the ‘your’. She was taken aback by this sudden change of attitude. The terrorist too looked taken aback by this sudden outburst. He exchanged a few words with his counterpart before motioning Mr. Das to follow him. Hatred filled Tara like anything. The man was trying to sell her to buy his freedom!

The other hostages had also woken up due to the disturbance. Everyone was staring at her. There was an uneasy calm all around, and every second felt like an hour for her. Finally, Mr. Das came back with the masked terrorist.

“Come with me girl!” the terrorist commanded. Tara shivered and crouched with fear. The terrorist started pulling her by the hand.

It happened within a fraction of second. The terrorist was thrown off balance, and the gun fell on the ground. Mr. Das was the culprit, he held a pistol taken from the terrorist himself and had him at gunpoint.

“Don’t you try anything or I’ll shoot you!” he hissed.

The terrorist gaped at him stupidly. He motioned her to come by his side. But unfortunately, another terrorist just came round the corner. She couldn’t even get time to think before she felt a strong hand

gripping hers. Bullets flew everywhere and the people started running randomly out of fear. She ran for her life, trying to be with as much people she could see in the commotion. A vast stretch of woods was nearby and most of them were running towards it for cover. She ran along with them. A few of them fell on the way, hit by bullets, but she kept on running. Panting for breath, she stopped just behind a tree.

“Don’t stop! Keep moving, or else they’ll kill you!” Mr. Das shouted, to get himself heard. She held his hands and continued to run. It was almost half an hour before she fell down, completely out of breath.

“Have we lost them?” she asked, taking deep breaths.

Mr. Das shook his head, “Maybe we have, but I’m not sure. I think we should keep moving, they’ll follow us definitely and they won’t stop until they have killed everyone who had managed to flee from

their captivity.”

“Where are we right now?” she asked, looking around. There were huge trees all around. The sky was cloudy, so the moon wasn’t visible. She had not even bothered to see where she was heading while running.

“Somewhere in the woods of the hill that we were crossing.” He answered, sitting beside her. The cracking sounds of the leaves made her jump on her feet. Mr. Das smiled at her reaction.

“So what’s your purpose of visit to Guwahati?” he asked.

“My medical entrance exam is scheduled to be held tomorrow, in the morning.” She said slowly. It was the first time that the thought of not being able to give tomorrow’s examination crossed her mind, since fleeing from the terrorists. The events of the past few hours had taken a toll on her. She felt dizzy.

Mr. Das looked at her intently. “And you don’t want to sit for it…?” he asked,

raising an eyebrow. “Why shouldn’t I? I came till here only because it was the only dream I had nurtured from my childhood, being a doctor…my own criticised me, justifying their stance by saying that I’m a girl and I should think within my limits.” She shot back fiercely.

“If you were so determined then why are you backing out now?” he asked, lighting a cigarette. Smoke billowed from his mouth everywhere. She saw his watery eyes through the smoke. They were looking at hers, waiting for answers.

“I’m not backing, it’s just that… Guwahati is too far now. Maybe god didn’t want me to reach there, like everyone.” She said sadly.

He laughed at the disgusting expression she made while giving this statement. “But you had me on my toes when you did that stunt.” She continued, rolling her eyes and recalling that close call with death. “What did you tell him anyway?” she asked curiously.

“Well, nothing much… Just told him that we are brothers and we must help each other. He gets to hand over you to his boss personally and I get my freedom, all in all, an enterprising deal for both the parties.” He said, taking a huge puff from the cigarette.

“That was dangerous! Do you realize that you are responsible for the deaths of all those innocents who were caught in the crossfire?” she asked, feeling agitated at his coldness.

He nodded slowly. “I realize, and I condemn. But sometimes, you need to be practical instead of social.”

“Getting other people killed to save your life is not practical, it’s disgusting.” She said spitefully. She didn’t like the man very much, but she knew that she needed him to get out of this mess.

“I think we must start moving, the highway should be somewhere downhill.” He said, getting up and brushing away the twigs and leaves from his clothes. She stood at her place, unable to decide whether to trust him or not. He stopped after taking a few steps, realizing that she wasn’t moving. “If you prefer to die peacefully sitting here, I won’t stop you. But let me remind you that you have

another option, and that is to come with me.” he said. She looked fixedly at him before finally making up her mind.

Walking in the dark required a different skill set, especially when one is lost in an unknown forest. She was tired to the point of falling down, but she kept on walking. She hadn’t spoken to him since they left.

“So what will you do once you reach the road? Go back home or board another bus for Guwahati?” he asked finally, breaking the silence.

“Go back home, maybe…” she answered, lost in her pool of thoughts.

“I see, so you no more want to be a doctor?” he shot back.

She glared at him fiercely. She liked the man lesser with every second. He had a smirk on his face, knowing that he had angered her.

“You see, I don’t have age on my side yet I am determined to save my son. I can clear any obstacle today to reach Guwahati. And that’s because I love him. You don’t have that fire in your belly to become a doctor. You don’t have strong feelings for your goal, so strong that you would give anything to achieve it.”

“And who are you to judge that? I could have turned back once I missed the train, but I knew that they won’t allow me to sit for the exam next year. This path has been chosen by me and only me.” she replied hotly. Mr. Das smiled and kept on walking briskly.

“I was in the police myself until two months ago. But I lost my job because I was accused for having leaked confidential information about an operation to the media, due to which a deadly terrorist managed to get away from our trap. I was made a victim, to save the faces of many big fishes involved in this business. You see, most of our actions are politically connected in some way or the other. I’ve been evading arrest for the past two months, so they used my son to bring me to the front.” He said all this with the least hint of emotion. Tara stared at him, surprised by the sudden change of topic.

He stopped in his path and motioned Tara to stop. In the calmness of the dark night, she felt that she heard noises. He pulled her aside and themselves under a heap of twigs and leaves. Soon, they heard footsteps. Tara was shaking with fear. This was the worst day of her life, and could also be the last day, she thought.

“Don’t worry; I understand what you are going through at this moment. This night is a test of character for both of us. We’ve travelled this far; god willing, we’ll surely get to our destinations.” He assured her. She nodded in reply. He motioned her to keep silent as the sound of the footsteps grew louder. In a flash, he came out of his hiding. Gunshots were fired from both sides, but she closed her ears to the noise of it.

“You may come out.” he told her slowly. She came out from under her hiding place to find two dead bodies lying on the ground at a fair distance. “They must have known some short-cut, and most probably they came searching for us.” He said, pointing at the bodies. “I hear more noises, may be the road isn’t too far. Let’s move before we meet some more of them. This place isn’t very safe.”

They started walking again.

Mr. Das was limping, clutching the left side of his stomach.

“Are you alright?” she asked concernedly.

“Yeah, I’m fine. The bullet just brushed past my stomach.” he said, with gritted teeth. He was in pain and Tara was unsure whether he would be able to move by himself. She extended her arm to support him. They were going uphill, which made moving more difficult. The absence of moonlight added to her woes as she frequently tripped over broken branches. Finally, when they reached the hill-top, they saw distant lights. The road was below their hill. Mr. Das leaned on a tree, getting rid of her support. He was breathing quickly. Blood was coming out profusely from the wound. He gave her a look which said it all.

“It’s just another fifteen minutes climb!” she exclaimed.

“I won’t make it dear. Do me a favour, if you manage to reach Guwahati and then hand over this package to my son in the central jail.” He said, handing her a package. It had a note written-’There’s always a better way. It’s our choice that matters.’

“I can’t leave you here like this!” she cried. He smiled hollowly, “You can…now go or else you’ll be caught.” She looked at him intensely for a second; there was no sign of sadness or remorse but only disappointment.

She turned to go away, and went ongoing without turning to look behind until she reached the road.

Luckily, she didn’t have to wait much. She boarded a bus till Nagaon. She fell asleep, as soon as she sat on the seat. Her village, the man who saved her life, Mr. Das, her parents and the image of her becoming a doctor kept coming in her dreams. When she woke up, it was dawn and the bus had reached its destination. Guwahati was only two hours from there. She took a train from there. The fertile fields of Brahmaputra valley kept passing by. She thought that she might have enjoyed these little joys had she not met Mr.Das. There was something about him that made him unforgettable. Maybe it was because the circumstances in which she met him, but that might just be an understatement of his presence of mind and brilliance.

She arrived at the Guwahati station at half past seven. The huge number of people there amazed her, for she lived in the most sparsely populated portion of the state. She went to the central jail first, handing over the packet to the guard and asking it to deliver to Varun Das. From there, she went to her examination venue. Though she arrived fifteen minutes late, she couldn’t help smiling for the first time in 24 hours on seeing the question paper…

She went back to the jail on finishing her paper. But there was a huge crowd in front of the gate. The media was present and live coverage of something was happening. She moved closer to the crowd to listen to what was going on. Though she couldn’t see the person in the thick of action, she heard him say “So the breaking news is that police have shot down three terrorists in connection with the recent bomb blasts when they tried to escape. But that’s what they say! Inside reports say that there was no sign of struggle, so they might have been killed in cold blood or committed suicide. For more news, keep on watching….” She couldn’tlisten to any more words.

Two months later

“So we are speaking to Tara Mandal, the star of the state medical entrance examination. Her success gives a new ray of hope to many such village kids who dream big.” the TV journalist spoke in a sing song way. The camera was focused on Tara.

“So what are your future plans?” she asked, with the smile fixed on her face mechanically.

“I want to be a surgeon, so that I can help the needy in times of crisis.” she replied indifferently.

“That’s nice! Why did you want to be a doctor in the first place?” she followed

“Because I didn’t want any other family to get ruined like mine.” Tara replied.

“Did your relatives support you in your endeavours?” she asked. Her uncle and aunt were beaming at a corner of the room. She nodded, “Yes, a lot”

“Tell us in a few words about this journey of yours, from a small village girl to superstardom.”

She thought over this for long before finally answering, “It was a long, tedious journey. I learnt a lot from it. I got to know that I livein hell, because people here can’t live together in harmony without killing each other. I got to see through my eyes, what we’ve made of ourselves. I got to appreciate the life that has been endowed upon us by the almighty. I got to know how it feels when you know you are going to die. I got to know so many other things. The journey taught me what eighteen years of life couldn’t. I started to believe in myself, because I got to know that determination and courage are the only necessities to achieve your goal, but only if you are motivated enough for it. When I took the bus after missing the last train to Guwahati, it was because I was determined to become a doctor barring all odds. But when I left an injured person in the midst of the forest, the person who’s my saviour, it needed something more than just determination and courage… As a famous person once said-’Sometimes you’ve got to be practical, instead of being social.’

The camera man and the journalist were both listening intently. As she finished, they started clapping. She wiped a tear from her eyes, and closed her eyes to remember that famous person..