The bus was hugely crowded, but we somehow managed to set our foot in it. Bus no. 12/D goes straight from Howrah station to Thakurpukur, so it was a convenient ride with all the baggage we had. Ma was clamping a suitcase on one hand and me in the other. The clamp was tight enough to break my fragile bones, but thankfully it didn’t. My shoulders were breaking though. The bag was heavy beyond the weight a ten year old girl could take. But, I managed. I wanted to reach my home, anyhow. It was an emotional homecoming. After my Baba’s death six months back, this was the first time we were coming back to Kolkata, only Ma and me. I don’t know why, but we were at peace, a strange unfamiliar peace. I loved Kolkata all along. The city fascinated me. I never like the ‘gram’ where my extended family lived. And, suddenly after my father’s death, it looked even more strange and alien. One death and life changes, I realized.
It was evening by the time we reached our home, a tiny brick house with bare essential commodities to have a living. I was happy, I was back where I belonged to. This rugged place gave me hope, always. The house looked exactly how we left it on that fateful day, only now it was much dilapidated than before. But, I was not complaining. The box with all the rice and pulses lay open, insects all over. I didn’t cringe. The rain damaged one side of the wall, there was stink. I didn’t complain still. But, I was restless. The wait was far from being over. I wanted him to come and see me first. Nothing else mattered. Ma said he will be here with a cleaner, but when? Was six months not enough?,and now I nearly cried in sheer exasperation.
I don’t know if I loved him or it was only reverence. But he definitely made me feel good, rather more important than anyone else. I wondered at times, was he even more important to me than Ma? His smile was comforting. There was a sense of security that I never felt with anyone else. His touch was harmless. I could spend hours together talking anything and everything under the sun. No one understood my hopes and aspirations better, and he was definitely one reason I wanted to be back in Kolkata, and I did.
That familiar knock, and I grinned. With some edibles and my favorite sweet in hand, he was there. A hand on my head and with a reassuring smile he said, “ kamon achish re?” I never felt so happy in the past few months. Few more women from our neighborhood entered after him. Ah ! they all are here to extend their condolences, I realized. He distanced himself from me, and quickly looked at my mother. Some discussions followed. Without all the wedding accessories she wore before, Ma looked different now. She looked uncomplicated and beautiful. I liked her this way, may be because, I never loved or liked my father.
Soon, me and Ma were back to our old routine. She worked as a house-help in one of the apartments near our home. I stayed back with the kids who spent their time playing and giggling while our parents worked. Making friends was easier than anything else in our lives. We welcomed everyone with open arms. There was no disparity. We all spoke the same language of poverty, illiteracy, hardship and abuse. And, then, more than anything else, this arrangement also gave me ample of time to spend with him, my treasure of the day !
Months passed, and we settled comfortably in our lives. The void was filling fast. Ma was cheerful. Money was adequate enough for three square meals. This was good, because we were not allowed to dream beyond this.
Without apparently realizing, I started spending more and more time with him. Earlier what used to be just 2-3 hours, was now conveniently 5-6 hours. And, soon my absence from the play area became conspicuous. There were murmurs about me and him spending time together. The filth of guttered minds were beginning to flow. But he remained unperturbed. “ Don’t lend your ears to all that my dear, trust me, all will be fine. You concentrate on your work”, is what he tackled my restlessness with. I believed him without an iota of doubt, because I perhaps never believed anyone anymore in my life.
But, one night, all hell broke loose. “ How can you talk about my daughter like this? These are murderous allegations. She is just an eleven year old fatherless child. Have some mercy on her. All you shameless creatures”, Ma lashed out. I knew, the floodgates have opened, and soon it’s going to be a deluge. I kept quiet with a deafening silence. My aspirations to make it big and get out of this poverty stricken life was nearly consuming me. I sobbed like a ruined dream, burying myself in despair. Life was not going to be the same again.
The AC was running in maximum, and I had wrapped myself with a quilt. I always struggled to balance the sultry Kolkata summer and an AC. Both are equally irritating.
“Kusum …Kusum…wake up, see what’s there in the newspaper”. A peck on the forehead, and in hushed decibels, he woke me up, every single day. And, today, taking my face in his palm, he continued…
“ Nothing makes me more happy. It’s all your hard work my love. The way you brought yourself to this position, you are an inspiration for many. You did it !”.
“Not you….say we did it”, I interrupted. What could I have possibly done without you, the man who fought against all odds and went on to become my teacher, my best friend, my guide, my philosopher….and above all, the father I never had.
We did it Baba…we did it !!!