"Aditya would be surrounded by people, the sky would reverberate with shouts of greetings in his praise and victory when he reaches the doorsteps. O God! How celestial the scene would be!" Karuna was thinking. She had spread a torn mat for those people to sit, prepared some folded sweet beetle leaves and sat there staring at the door with hopeful eyes. Her husband's strong, compassionate and bright form flashed before her eyes as she remembered again and again his last words that he uttered before leaving. She recalled his endurance, his inner strength, which remained resolute even before the brutal assaults of police. The smile playing on his lips, the self-respect trickling from his face even at that painful moment, could these ever fade away from Karuna's memory! Such reminiscences always brought a glow of pride on Karuna's pale face. These treasured memories had only sustained her and consoled her in the moments of extreme misery in these three years. Oh! How many nights had she spent with just one or two morsels, quite often could not even light a lamp in the house, but tears of poverty never dropped from her eyes. Today all these miseries will end. Now in the loving embrace of her husband she will endure all hardships with a smile. After getting this eternal treasure she would not desire anything else.
The violet hour, when even the perpetual dweller in the sky moves to rest, where the evening lays golden floor and spreads the bed of bright fragrant flowers, Karuna saw a man walking with a stick whose footsteps sounded like the screams of an ailing man. He would stop at every step and start coughing. His head was downcast, so Karuna could not see his face. From his walk and built he appeared like an old man, but the moment he came near Karuna instantly recognized him. Oh! It was her beloved husband, how much his countenance had changed! Alas! The youthfulness, glow, nimbleness, his strong built everything had gone! Now before her was a mere bundle of bones! To her utter astonishment, neither was there any friend, nor any supporter, nor any well wisher. On recognizing, Karuna rushed out but somehow the desire of embracing strangely got suppressed. All her dreams were shattered; all her enthusiasm flowed with tears running down from her eyes, and finally disappeared.
Aditya smiled at her as he stepped inside. But in that smile was buried immeasurable anguish! Karuna became motionless as if her heart had stopped beating. Without batting her eyelids she went on staring as if she was still unable to trust her eyes. She could neither utter a word of welcome nor of grief. The child in her lap, clung closer and closer as he too stared at that skeleton with frightened eyes.
"Oh! What have you done to yourself? You are just unrecognizable!" At last she spoke in a faint voice.
"No, no ! Nothing has happened to me. I have just become thin, I will again become healthy when I shall eat your hand made food," Aditya said and forced a smile to lessen her worry.
Karuna: "Chi! You have become a skeleton! Didn't you get proper food there? You used to tell me that people who work for political parties were treated very well. Where are your friends who used to surround you all the time and were always ready to flow their blood in place of your sweat?"
Aditya frowned as he spoke, "It is a very bitter experience Karuna! I did not know that people would shun me the moment I was imprisoned; no one would even seek my welfare. Karuna! This would be the reward for sacrificing one's life for the nation I did not know. Though I knew that public forgets its servants very quickly, I have realized it the first time how ungrateful our friends and colleagues can be. Anyway I don't have any grievance against anyone. Selfless service in itself is the greatest reward. It was my mistake that I desired name and recognition for my service."
Aditya: "Oh! Don't ask me all this Karuna, an extremely pitiable story it is. You just be thankful that I am alive and back here. My good fortune has somehow dragged me here; otherwise, the excruciating suffering should have killed me long ago. I would like to lie down now, I am just not able to stand .The whole day I walked to reach here."
Karuna: "Come! First eat something and then relax." (Picking up the child in her arms) "Beta! Your babuji! Your babuji! Sit in his lap beta and he will lavish all his love and affection on you."
As Aditya looked at his son, tears welled up in his eyes. He felt as if his each and every pore sneered at him. Never had he felt so miserable at his plight. He thought if by immense grace of God his condition improves then he would never ever participate in any national movement. What right did he have to bring this little child to the earth and fling him into the fire of poverty to suffer? Now he would worship the Goddess Laxmi and would devote his worthless life in bringing up the child. At that moment he felt the scornful piercing look of the child as if questioning him, "What responsibility have you discharged as father?" His yearnings and his love arose wanting anxiously to embrace the child, but his hands just could not move. Ah! His hands did not have any strength!
Karuna got up holding the child and brought food in a plate. Aditya looked at the plate with such desperation, as if he was seeing food after several years. He knew that after years of starving and now with this feeble body, he should resist his palate, but he could not. He gobbled up everything at once and within minutes emptied the plate much to her surprise. Karuna stood there with disbelief, but did not ask for second serving either. She silently picked up the plate and went inside, but her heart was telling her, he never ate so much!
"Karuna! Karuna!" She heard a voice while feeding the child.
"Did you call me?" She immediately came out and asked.
Aditya's face had turned pale and he was breathing very fast. He was lying down on the mat with the support of his hands. "Should I call a doctor?" a nervous Karuna asked him on seeing his condition.
"No Karuna, no use! Now I will not conceal anything from you. I am suffering from tuberculosis. I have escaped death several times. Only because I was destined to meet you all, I did not die. Ah dear! Please don't weep now" Aditya waved his hand and said.
"I will get a doctor" Karuna pleaded, suppressing her sobs.
"No Karuna, you only sit by my side," Aditya again refused and said, "Now there is no hope from anyone. Doctors have given up all hope. I still wonder how have I reached here? I don't know which mystical power has brought me here. Perhaps it is the final light of this extinguishing lamp. Oh! I have really done injustice to you! I shall repent forever. I could not provide you any comfort. Ah! I could do nothing for you, except putting the blot of wifehood on you and now also just see! I am departing leaving the responsibility of rearing this child on you."
"Are you having pain? Should I bring fire? Why don't you speak?" Karuna revived her strength and asked him.
"You don't have to do anything dear! No pain at all." Turning the other side, Aditya said, "My heart is just sinking and I feel as if I am drowning in the water. My life is coming to an end. I am watching the extinguishing light. I cannot say but I feel that very soon I might lose my voice too. Whatever I have been longing to say, I want to tell you everything quickly, why should I carry this wish with me? Will you answer my question? Should I ask?" he begged.
"Why don't you ask my dear?" caressing her husband's head, Karuna impatiently asked.
"Why are you asking this dear? Did I ever scoff at you?" Karuna passionately responded. "Your life has been like the life of Gods – selfless, chaste and ideal. In fact, exhausted amidst struggles and misfortunes, many a time it was I who tried to pull you towards the mundane material pursuits, but deep down in my heart I knew that I was pushing you from a higher plane. Had you been engrossed in the worldly pursuits, perhaps I would have been happier, but I would have deprived my spirit of the pride and exultation which I am experiencing now. If I can bless anyone, I would only wish that his life should be like yours." While saying this Karuna's face glowed as if her spirit had attained divinity.
Aditya looked at her proudly and said, "Enough! Now I am gratified Karuna, I am not worried for the child also, I cannot leave him in better hands than yours. I have firm faith that this sacred and lofty ideal will guide you lifelong. Ah! Now I am ready to die."
Seven years passed. The ten year old Prakash was now a handsome, stout, lively, brave and self-willed boy. Fear could never touch him. His presence soothed Karuna's burnt heart. The world looked at Karuna as wretched and unfortunate, but she never wept over her fate. The ornaments, which were more dear to her than her life when her husband was alive, she silently sold. With that money she bought a few cows and buffalos. She was a farmer's daughter so cow–rearing was not a new trade for her. Where does one get pure milk? In no time the milk started getting sold. A gleeful Karuna used to be busy with work twenty-four hours. Instead of the dark shadows of hopelessness and helplessness, now her face radiated determination and courage. The light of self-pride emanated from each part and each pore of her form, in her eyes there was somber and unfathomable heavenly light. All her miseries, sorrow of widowhood and the atrocities of fate merged in the depths of that divine light.
She doted on Prakash. Her happiness, her desires, her world, her paradise, everything was sacrificed on him. But she didn't spare him if he ever misbehaved. No, she was very particular about his character formation. As she was both his mother and father, her love blended motherly affection and fatherly strictness. Her husband's last words were still resonating in her ears. His delighted spirit, eyes beaming with self pride were still reeling before her eyes! Incessant thinking of him had made Aditya alive in her eyes. She not only experienced his presence but also felt that his spirit always protected her. Her only desire now was that Prakash should follow in his father's footsteps.
One day in the twilight an old woman came to her door and started begging. Karuna was giving water to cows and Prakash was playing outside. After all he was an immature boy! Suddenly he thought of playing a prank on her. He went inside and came out with husk in a bowl. Smiling mischievously, he poured it into the stretched cloth of the beggar and ran away clapping.
"O you pampered child! You are playing pranks on me! Is this what your parents have taught you? If yes, then I am sure you will bring good name to your family" with fiery eyes and a mad fury raging inside her, the old woman screamed.
"What has happened mother? Who are you saying all this to?" Hearing the cries and shouts of the old woman, Karuna came out and asked.
"Is this your son?"she pointed towards Prakash and said, "Just see how he poured husk in my cloth and spoiled the little wheat that was there. Does anyone torment the poor? Don't be so proud as time doesn't remain the same in our lives."
"Prakash!" Karuna harshly called.
Speechless Karuna somehow gave some wheat to the old woman and sent her away but his impudent arguments continued to pierce her heart. "Where has he learnt this impoliteness from?" the whole night she kept on thinking about it.
Suddenly Prakash woke up in the mid night. He saw that the lantern was lit and Karuna was weeping." Amma! Are you still awake?" He got up and asked.
But there was no unity in the words and deeds of Prakash. As the days passed this split in his personality became more and more prominent. Being a bright student he received scholarship from the university. Karuna tried her best to support him but he was always short of money. He used to deliver eloquent scholarly speeches on the importance of simple living and economy, but he himself was a blind worshipper of fashionable life. He had obsession for ostentation. There was continuous conflict between his heart and mind. His heart was with the nation and the mind was with his own self. Ultimately, the sensitive heart surrendered before the logic of the rational mind that service to nation was very much like farming in a barren land, people who serve the nation are rewarded with fame and honour which are transitory, one can lose them any moment. Such thoughts instantly pushed him towards luxuries of life. A time came when he started loathing virtues like sacrifice and love. Poverty was a bane for him. He had neither heart nor sensitivity, except the rational mind. Where is space for feelings and pain in mind? It lodges only logical arguments and ambitions.
Floods in Sindh ruined thousands of lives .The university sent a team of volunteers and Prakash was in dilemma, "Should I go or not?" His mind told him to spend this time in preparing for his examination and secure first division. On the pretext of illness he stayed back.
Dreadful drought engulfed Orissa and people started dying like flies. The Congress party arranged a rescue-mission. At the same time the university decided to send the students of history to Sri Lanka for historical exploration. "You go to Orissa" Karuna's humanitarian instinct prompted her to write to him, but Prakash was craving for Sri Lanka. The conflict tormented him for several days and finally it was Sri Lanka which triumphed over Orissa. This time Karuna did not write anything to him but wept silently.
Prakash came home after returning from Ceylon, but this time Karuna's curtailed warmth made him ashamed of himself. He took an oath that now whenever he would get an opportunity he would please his Amma. He returned with this determination to the university, but there again worry of exams succumbed him. Finally exam time arrived but even after the exams Prakash did not go home. One of the teachers of the university had planned a luxury trip to Kashmir and Prakash went to Kashmir with him. When the results were declared and he obtained first division, he remembered his home! He immediately wrote a letter to Karuna and informed about his arrival. Just to please his mother he wrote some words about service to nation, "Now I am ready to obey your orders. I shall serve through my education and that is why I have secured distinction. Even our political leaders respect the university teachers and crave for these laurels. Our leaders show more regard to awards than competence and enthusiasm! Now they will respect me and assign me some responsible assignment which they would not have given me earlier."
Just after the university reopened, Prakash received a letter from the registrar informing him about the university's decision of awarding him scholarship for further studies in England. "Amma! I have got scholarship for further studies in England," intoxicated with joy, Prakash came to Karuna with the letter.
Prakash did not answer. He just got up, went outside and immediately sent a letter of refusal to the registrar. From that very moment it appeared as if some misfortune befell him. Dejected and recluse he used to remain in his room all the time; neither did he go anywhere, nor did he meet anyone. He used to roam with a gloomy face and one month passed this way. His face lost the sparkle and brilliance, eyes begged like an orphan, lips forgot to smile as if that refusal letter had bid farewell to his animated life, agility and vivacity. Karuna could understand his feelings and tried to make him forget that heartache, but it was difficult to please the offended God.
"Beta,if you have so firmly decided to go abroad then you go" finally one day she spoke to Prakash. "I will not stop you. I am regretting why I stopped you. Had I knew that you would be so upset, I would have never stopped you. I only thought that your babuji's spirit would be gratified to see you engrossed in national service. After all before departing he left this legacy only for us."
Karuna did not speak. After some time, he saw her going out somewhere, but did not ask her. It was not unusual for Karuna to go out, but when she did not return till evening, Prakash got worried. The thought "Where has Amma gone?" kept on disturbing him. Disturbed by doubts, Prakash spent the whole night at the door. Now he remembered how sad Karuna was and how red her eyes were when she had left the house! Why could Prakash not see all these at that time? Why did he become so blind in his selfishness?
It was a dreadful night in the rainy season; the sky was overcast with dark clouds like a horrifying dream. Intermittently, Prakash used to look up as if he was searching for Karuna in those dark clouds. He decided to look for her Amma in the morning but what if…
Somebody knocked at the door and Prakash ran to open the door. Karuna was standing. She was looking lost and pitiable as if she had just lost her husband, she looked as if now there was nothing left for her in this world, and she looked like one who helplessly stares at her sinking boat but can't save it.
"Amma! Where did you go? Why did you get so late?" Prakash asked her desperately.
Saying this, she threw a sealed envelope before Prakash. Curiously Prakash picked it up. There was university's seal at the top. His face became brighter as he read the contents and asked "Amma! Where did you get it?"
From that day itself Prakash became busy planning and making preparations for his journey. Karuna spent whatever money she had. Some loans were taken. New suits were made and new suitcases were bought. He was immersed in his own world of dreams. He used to approach her with his demands for some or the other thing for his trip.
In one week Karuna had become very thin, white strands appeared in her hair, wrinkles were visible on her face but alas! He could not see anything. He could only think and see the colourful England. Ambitions veil one's vision.
The day of his departure came. It was a bright sunny day. Karuna was taking out the old clothes of her husband, his bed sheets, Khadi kurtas, pajamas, blankets which were kept carefully in the box. Every year they were kept outside in sun for drying and then were kept inside. Today, Karuna took those clothes out not for drying, but to distribute them among poor. Today she was annoyed with her husband. Today, Aditya's all time possessions, the glass, rope and watch, which she worshipped for twenty years, were thrown in the backyard; Aditya's bag which remained on his shoulders for years was today thrown in the dustbin, the picture before which she bowed her head for twenty years was ruthlessly thrown on the floor. She did not want to keep any memory of her husband in her house. Her heart was torn apart with sorrow and disillusionment! Before whom could she express her annoyance other than her husband? Who was hers? Who else could she narrate her tearful tale to? Who could she show her broken heart to? She was thinking, "had he been alive, would Prakash have rejoiced fastened in the chains of slavery? Oh!" Who could explain her that had Aditya been alive, even he would have felt powerless and regretful like her.
His friends organized a farewell lunch for him. He returned with them in the evening in a car. When his luggage was kept in the car, he came inside and spoke in a low tone, "Amma! I am leaving now. I will write to you on reaching Mumbai. You promise me that you will not cry in my absence and respond to my letters regularly."
Karuna's condition was very much like those who lose their patience at once on seeing the dead body of their dear one; bottled up tears flow unchecked and waves of insurmountable sorrow swell inside them. The tumult which arose in her shook each and every atom of her lean body, it appeared as if she had slipped and was now flowing with the waves. She could not utter a word of sorrow or a word of blessing. Prakash touched her feet, washed her feet with his tears and left. Karuna stood like a statue.
Suddenly the cowherd came shouting, "Bhaiyya ji has gone. He was weeping bitterly."
Suddenly Karuna looked up and saw Aditya standing with the dead body of Prakash in his hands! Karuna became unconscious.
Karuna was alive but she had withdrawn herself from the world. Her small world, which she erected in the heart of imagination, vanished like an airy nothing in the infinite sky. Her Prakash, because of whom she carried deep within her the light of hope and fortune in dark nights, that light had extinguished now. All her wealth has been plundered. Now there was no shelter and no need too. The cows whom she fed twice a day with immense affection, caressed them with her affectionate hands, were now staring at the door hopelessly. There was no one to love the calves; there was no one for whom they had to be milked. Who was there to eat? Karuna had wrapped up her small world within herself.
But within a week God filled Karuna's life with new colours. Her tiny world expanded and spread in the entire world. The rope which tied the boat to pole had broken! Now the boat would fearlessly wander in the endless ocean, even if the rising and heaving waves engulfed it. Karuna sat at the door, calling all the boys, giving them milk, making fresh butter for them in the afternoons, making a variety of dishes and feeding the dogs, now her life revolved round them! The birds, dogs, cats and ants became her companions. Her door of love was not closed for anyone. That small house which was too small for Prakash had welcomed and embraced the entire world!
One day she received a letter from Prakash, which she picked up and threw. After some time she again picked it up, tore it into pieces and got engrossed in feeding her beloved birds. But when the ascetic of night lighted her sacred fire and all the agonies anxiously ran to her to seek blessings, Karuna's suppressed anguish again became alive and her anxious heart fluttered to read his letter. She thought "What is Prakash to me? How am I concerned with him? Yes, what is Prakash to me? Yes, how am I concerned with him?" Her heart responded, "Prakash is everything for you, he is the memory of your immortal love from which you are deprived forever. He is your life, the light of the lamp of your life, the sweetness of your unfulfilled wishes, the wandering dove in the lake of your tears." Karuna frantically started collecting the scattered pieces of the letter, as if they were pieces of her scattered life. Each piece of the letter appeared to her like the footprint of her lost love. She sat with all the collected pieces in front of the lamp and started joining them like a distressed beloved who tries to join the broken love strings of the heart. Oh inexplicable love of the mother! The unfortunate woman spent the whole night in joining those torn pieces. The letter was written on both sides, so it was difficult to arrange the pieces correctly. Sometimes some words and sometimes some sentences disappeared and she looked hysterically for that piece. The whole night passed but the letter remained incomplete.
Next day the boys gathered outside her house for sweet milk and fresh butter. Dogs and cats started arriving, birds were hopping in the backyard, some were sitting on the mortar, and some were sitting on the Tulsi platform, but Karuna did not have the time to look up.
It was noon, but Karuna did not lift her head. She had lost her thirst and hunger. The sun was setting, but the letter was still incomplete. She could decipher some meaning from those pieces that his plane was flying from one place to another, and something arose in his heart but 'what that something was' Karuna could not imagine. She wanted to read each and every word written by her son and wanted to have its imprints on her heart.
Three days passed like this. It was evening and not having slept for three days, she dozed off for a while and saw a man sitting in the centre of a raised platform in a huge room with tables and chairs. Karuna concentrated and recognized, "Oh it was Prakash!" The next moment a prisoner was brought before him whose legs and hands were fastened with chains, his back was lowered, "Oh it was Aditya!" Just then she opened her eyes, looked around with tears running down. She again collected the scattered pieces and this time burnt them. There was nothing left except a pinch of ash which had tormented her heart. Her happy childhood with dolls, her scorched youth, her widowhood with unfulfilled wishes, everything merged in that pinch of ash.
Early morning people saw that the bird had flown out of the cage! The picture of Aditya was still glued to her lifeless heart. The broken heart was peacefully resting in the lap of her husband's loving memories and Prakash in his plane was flying towards Europe!
Web Graphics and design by Smita Maitra * Background graphic by Kabir Kashyap* concept by Amrita Ghosh * Please read the disclaimer