Bamboo Flower, a novel, Part-6
continued from last Sunday
“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.
‘Thembi, you know that if anyone asks for my nephews, the answer is we know nothing.’ Thoibi was only repeating what had been said over and over again.
‘Yes. Of course. And indeed we do not know anything. But why? Is it getting more dangerous? I hope the boys are safe.’
‘Yes. It’s their safety as much as ours.’
‘And what do we say if they make sudden appearance? What would wishing them luck mean? Would it only mean safety for them? Because in self-defence, they may have to shoot.’ Thembi said facing her.
‘And what if you wish your police nephew luck?’ Thoibi said
‘I have not seen my nephew Dhiraj for years but I know that he is raising his family well with his police salary. And I can only wish him well even though he must be like all policemen.’ Thembi replied.
‘Indeed. Wishing good luck to any soldier means their own safety first and to succeed in making the enemy fall. Of course, there is violence.’ Thoibi added
‘Yes, it’s their safety. But what for us? Are we not living as we have been all this while?’
‘Thembi, Thembi. Life is no longer as simple as we want it to be.’
‘I know that you do not want the Security Forces to come for “house search”. But then, it has been like this for long.’
‘And now with “Armed Forces Special Act”, they can kill anyone on suspicion. And that makes us all vulnerable. Privacy was important earlier. Now survival is more important.’
‘I don’t know what is all that. I guess we can continue to live as we have been doing.’
Nobody used to talk about something called the “Armed Forces Special Powers (Assam-Manipur) Act of 1958” until recently, Thoibi tried to educate Thembi. She then continued, “But now, every meeting would be incomplete without a mention of this Act.” In fact, every meeting called by the “Women’s Organizations” that she routinely attended spent a lot of time on this Act in India, Thoibi added for Thembi.
Thembi then said, ‘So, they can shoot at us or at Tomba if they think that we could be, according to them, doing anything against them.’
‘Yes, Thembi, we are not supposed to do anything which can be construed to be siding with my own nephews even if it is only natural.’
The law was complicated for anyone and for Thoibi and Thembi, they could only try to understand it in bits and parts. Thoibi for instance, now only knew that the culprits who abused Memchoubi could go unpunished and that she could not be seen to be helping her nephews even if it was the smallest thing and those possibilities were bad enough. The possibility of being some help to her nephews was remote but there was the strongest possibility of the men who brutalized Memchoubi going unpunished.
So, many conversations were always on “Combing Operations”, “Pick Ups”, “House Search”, and of course “interrogations”, of people in their homes. However, those days or was it not months that summer, the meetings and the conversations were only on the “Memchoubi incident”. It revealed that she was raped by two of those men who ostensibly came on “House Search”.
Thoibi and Thembi could not avoid talking. Memchoubi was a neighbour. Yet they could not just go, meet her and express their feelings. This was something different. One could go to offer condolence at the death of a relation or a friend or enquire about somebody who had been picked up by the security forces. Rape of a woman was different.
Whenever Thoibi and Thembi were alone, it always came up. They would not of course talk about such things in presence of men. They knew that even if Tomba was to overhear them he would not react but instinctively they avoided such conversations in his presence.
These were worries, however Thoibi knew that Thembi must be told of the latest in their lives. She went closer to Thembi, who was cleaning up the kitchen and said, ‘You know, brother Prakash came yesterday. He mentioned Rajen’s future, meaning marriage.’
Prakash Singh was always brother Prakash since he was a close friend of her long dead elder brother, Modhu and father of Priyo.
‘He brought a proposal. He said Rajen and Bharatileima would make a good match. I could not help almost laughing out aloud when he left. Rajen would definitely say what! That girl with curly hair, I had thought then’.
Thoibi’s happiness did not last long. She grew quieter. Thembi for once now could sense that Thoibi must have been thinking of possible queries about Rajen’s father particularly about “yek/ clan” if the formal negotiations of the marriage were to begin.
Thembi allowed her some time before she decided to break into her silence. She was not sure how Thoibi would react.
She made it as matter of fact as possible and asked, ‘So, what was your reply to brother Prakash?’
Thoibi wiped her eyes with the end of her light upper garment, a light pastel green cloth she used over her blouse, and said, ‘Let Rajen come home after his studies was all that I told him.’
Thembi knew that it was not going to be easy to go any further. More details and preparations in the mind for both of them had to wait for some time, she knew.
After this business like reply, Thoibi again lapsed into silent state.
This time Thembi could not intrude and left her alone.
As if she could not wait any longer, Thoibi began to think of her past, her innocent days, as Thembi left to attend to other chores.
Her mind drifted to those early days when she was in the village with her father, the able Ibobi and her two brothers - one elder, Modhu and other younger, Manglem. Before Manglem, there were also a sister and a brother, both died as infants. The new boy was named Manglem as advised by the village amaibas /pundits so that there would be no more deaths of the siblings. Their mother, however died, only months after Manglem was born.
Those were happy days although she had to attend to many household chores since she was the only female sibling of the family. She also remembered their widowed aunt, Radhe, a cousin of their father, who used to stay with them to look after the growing children.
Then, those days she was nervous and the conversation she had with her friend and neighbour, Bina, came back to her mind.
She had said, ‘what do you think I should do now?’
Bina spoke out, ‘why should you sound so weak? You know that a change like that is only natural’.
‘This is what makes it so difficult,’ Thoibi reasoned.
‘I guess it only tells you to decide. Or is the decision already made?’ provoked Bina.
‘I don’t know. I wish I can relive my past - right from the first time I met him’, she had said. Nevertheless, she knew that it was most unlike her to say all that, but she could not help it.
‘Wake up! You have grown and so has everyone around - some faster and hence, you begin to think that you are changing slower,’ Bina had said.
‘Yes, didn’t you say that Tampha has had a run of three boyfriends already?’ she was carried.
‘Oh! Don’t bitch. And so, what? He is not proposing marriage right away. Or is he?’ Bina had lovingly admonished.
‘Well, well no. Well no. How funny of me! I can’t tell you more,’ Thoibi put her hands over her face as if to hide and stopped abruptly.
Bina was to tell her later that she could not say what but knew she was nervous.
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