Bamboo Flower, a novel - Part 5
“Bamboo Flower”, serialized here, is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Many neighbours also had boys in the age group of fifteen to twenty years leaving home and joining the underground organizations.
Although it was, almost two years after the cousins had left home that Thoibi was telling her son, their whereabouts were still not known.
Thoibi wanted to relate this incident because from that day she felt strange and afraid. She could not use as many words to tell her son that Memchoubi of the fourth house on the left was raped on that noisy night.
Soon after she told Rajen what had happened to Memchoubi in her own way, did she tell her son that the olive-green tall dark men with moustaches also entered their house that night to search. Such searches were routine, she had to account for the members of the family. However, she wickedly said that on this occasion she could get away without having to mention her two nephews. She said that she had only said that she had a son who was away in college in Delhi.
For Thoibi, the Memchoubi story was one of those strange things, which kept coming back to her mind, and she started wondering what it would be like if it were to happen to her. She lapsed into silences to reflect and be on her own even while speaking out and telling him how it was in his absence.
An unknown image would often come to claim attention. It appeared to her that something similar was happening to her. This was something Thoibi could not tell anyone and those around her particularly Thembi would wonder if she was not behaving strangely at times.
She used to tell herself that she knew that Thembi and others must have been thinking that she was strange.
She remembered what she had said to Thembi one of those days,
‘Thembi, do you ever think that a strange man can come to you just like that? When you were young and beautiful, I know, you attracted a lot of attention. For whatever reason, you chose not to remarry after your husband died. You could easily do that since you were young and childless.’
‘Strange are the ways of the world. When you were young and strong, you always felt that you could defend yourself and keep any unwanted person at bay. What would you do now? You are still attractive. In any case, Memchoubi is older than you and do not have much that would attract any self-respecting man. But how would I know men! And those animals! Would they have any self-respect?’ she had also said.
Thembi had only said, ‘I am shallow. So I don’t think I can understand all this. Of course, life was different in the past.’
These words from Thembi made her smile, she remembered. Mention of the past by Thembi, Thoibi told herself. She never referred to anything about the past whenever she had to speak about herself.
Thoibi also soon remembered what she had said on another occasion after some days of the heavy traffic sound: ‘Thembi, should we not do something so that these “Combing Operations” do not take place at all. How can we tell them not to come? How do we convince them that we have nothing to do with what the youngsters do? Should we not tell them to fight with whatever they have and convince all others that the youngsters are wrong and they right? But are there enough reasons? And whoever will judge what is right and what is not? Is there a place where discussions can be had?’
She had stopped for a while and before Thembi could react, she again started:
‘Thembi, are we living in normal times? You talked of a different past. Will my nephews ever come home safe? Will they be able to marry and raise families? They have a right to what they think. Don’t they? But who will tell them that there may be different ways of looking at the issues which agitate them?’
However few words Thembi spoke out, Thoibi knew that she was somebody who understood all the turmoil and the difficulties they were going through. Thembi quickly spoke out, ‘But where do we place ourselves amongst these warring groups?’ as Thoibi was to continue, ‘you know, Thembi, we should also find ways to stop the disappearance of these boys. We must do something before it is too late. Let us not wait for the time when there are no young boys left in the open.’
With those words, Thoibi closed her eyes and kept quiet.
After a while, she again spoke out slowly, ‘you know, they say that if the boys disappear themselves they generally return. Do you think my Priyo and Johnny will return? I hope they know that they are always welcome. What unfortunate boys! They lost their fathers before they could pronounce the word. Will they ever find happiness? Their mothers were strong enough to carry on with their lives.’
‘Why, if they are strong, what are we? We are the strong because we made sure that the little boys were taken care of during those difficult days’, Thembi spoke all wisdom.
‘No, I think it’s the weak, like you and I, who worry and talk like we do, I am sorry, like I do. I am glad you have said you are strong. Thembi, are you with me or you are not? Don’t you also worry like I do?’ Thoibi queried Thembi.
Thembi did not know how to react. She only nodded.
‘Thembi, if you are with me and you are equally worried, I am sure, we will be able to find a way out’, Thoibi said.
She knew she had said more than enough. She was not sure if Thembi, her sounding board, had heard and understood all that she had said. Nevertheless, she felt lighter.
Although she had said all these as coherently as she could, what was in her mind was the trauma Memchoubi had suffered.
‘Do you think we can again live with some more dignity?’ She again started speaking out. Thembi was always there. She did not have to think whether Thembi fully understood whatever she was saying.
What was important was her urge to speak out her feelings. She then wanted to correct, some privacy, if not wholesome dignity, she told herself.
‘Here, we, two elderly women in a huge house’, Thembi began saying and continued, ‘all we seem to be doing is waiting for normal times. But what will be normal for us - return of our boys from their hideouts? Or is it peace to return for everybody? When will this turbulence be over?’
‘And, Thembi, what I hate most is these animals opening up our beds to find out if there is anybody else. Who are they to intrude into our lives?’
This was more like conversation however unpleasant they sounded, thought Thembi. Thoibi, of course, remembered Thembi only saying, ‘Are they not doing what they are employed for?’ to which she retorted, ‘But not to peep into others beds.’
She also remembered that Thembi had soon retreated without replying.
She had thought that Thembi was probably not interested in pursuing the argument. She was so disturbed that, she must have been ensuring that not anybody, Thembi then, should have any justification for those acts of the security forces, she was to think later. She was definitely not prepared for any opposition, however logical they might sound.
“Normal times. Peace. Yes, we will soon lead normal times,” Thoibi had spoken out. She also remembered that she had shut her eyes before Thembi could react.
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