Bamboo Flower, a novel – Part 28
By Akendra Sana
“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.
contd.. from last Sunday
Reaching home early was more important for Rajen. Wasn’t he the one who had to confront the rats? And what with the numbers growing after dark! Leima always used to say that he should come home early so that he did not have to tread on the rats.
Watches and clocks were, of course, useful, perhaps much more than at other places, only during work and limited time at home. Once at home by dusk, the activities set their own pace. It used to be evening meal by seven thirty along with the radio news. The Television news by nine. Newspapers and children’s homework in between for those who had children at home. The turbulence for many parents meant sending children to schools outside the state, even if it was a lot more costly. Evening was also the time for the so-called national newspapers because they came by air from Calcutta and mornings were for the local newspapers.
Then it would be bedtime by ten o’clock.
These timings were for summer. In winter, all the activities were at least two hours earlier. But wake up time for most people was earlier in summer. Radio and Television news, of course, did not have wintertime and had to be heard or watched, mostly from bed during winter. This was because the sun set at least two hours earlier if compared with a place like Bombay. In fact, Rajen strongly believed that office timings of government offices in the extreme east of India like Manipur could easily begin at eight o’clock in the morning and end at three instead of the regimented ten in the morning to five in the evening. Ten in the morning in summer in Manipur is midday and five in the evening in winter definitely late.
Sure enough, there was an announcement that evening over the radio that curfew was clamped in all the major areas of the town. Details, as usual, were not available.
After the news, everyone wanted to know the details. The only comforting thing in the house was that everyone was home. On evenings like this it was absolutely important that everybody was home because nobody would know the whereabouts of the absentee and telephones might just not be available to send any message home. Moreover, curfews, when declared as indefinite, could go on for a full day or more.
They could not get the details from anywhere since telephone calls to friendly newspaper offices only resulted in busy sounds and all other telephone numbers they tried to call were busy as well. Rajen said they should very well wait for the morning news. But then everyone wanted to know.
So when Rajen was also wondering how they could get some information, Tomba suddenly said, ‘Uncle Nimai’s son-in-law is in the police. They could be having some information, I’m going over to find out.’
Saying this, Tomba soon picked up the battery torchlight and went out.
Uncle Nimai, a retired schoolteacher was their southern neighbour whose youngest daughter was married to a police officer.
‘They said that some persons were injured in the shoot-out at the “Sit-in-Protest” earlier in the evening as the protesters were leaving and security personnel had cordoned off the place.’ Tomba returned and narrated.
The silence outside became more eloquent on hearing the news. Yet nobody could guess how long the curfew would last. They could only wait for the next announcement from the government.
‘Do we have enough things?’ Rajen asked generally without directing to anybody in particular. But he expected either Leima or his mother to confirm that they had essentials like lentils, cooking oils, toothpaste, tealeaves and more importantly things like cooking gas.
And indeed Thoibi said that they had everything they needed to last for at least a fortnight. The fact that she was at the spot of the incident only moments before the gunshots was almost forgotten by everybody including her. Of course, they all said that it was better that there was no bomb explosion because the casualties would be worse.
‘So, it’s going to be a complete holiday tomorrow.’ Rajen then declared as if he was satisfied that they had enough essentials to survive for a fortnight.
‘Curfew outside. Blackout here.’ Tomba only said. Even though power-cuts were common, on nights like this the silence and the darkness seemed to go well together.
Curfews were more holidays than Sundays. There would be a numbing silence. The newspaper boy would probably be exempted from the curfew restrictions and deliver the morning papers. In fact, he would be most welcome in every household. The milkman would not come. Telephone calls would, hopefully be less. The streets would have only motor vehicles of the security forces. And it would be a ghost town. A curfew town was a ghost town anyway.
Rajen could not help looking forward to be just lazing around and to be surfing television channels. He would in fact, want to find out if the news channels carried the hard news and the curfew. There was always anticipation to hear the name of his homeland. And here was news of the violent kind although they still did not know the extent of trouble. Yet he had to pray that the casualties did not include any of his friends or relatives. For some definite and detailed news he had to wait till tomorrow morning, he told himself.
‘The troubles never seem to end.’ Rajen spoke out as he entered the bedroom.
Leima was setting the bed. She continued to wipe out that invisible dust from the bed sheets and said without turning her head, ‘Are we all not learning to live with the troubles? So, why should we be unduly worried? It’s now curfew whose cause we still don’t know. Soon there would be a general strike to protest against the imposition of the curfew if not against what led to the curfew. But then, life goes on.’
‘Yes. For us, it’s the curfew outside and rats in our backyard. How long is this going to last?’ he spoke out.
‘The rats are temporary. They will soon go away. Won’t they? In fact, I have told brother Tomba to clear some space for the winter vegetables’, Leima replied.
Rajen was provoked with the mention of the possible winter vegetables because he knew that it was just not possible. He did not however respond. He kept quiet and thought how ignorant the wife was because the rats were as serious a problem as they first appeared. He had to do something fast, he gritted his teeth. And what optimism his wife was nurturing, he let go a half smile.
This kind of conversation and of course, the kind of day it was, even if it was news of trouble at some corner of the town, was sure to make her husband have a fitful sleep that night, Leima told herself. She could now only make it as normal as possible, she reassured herself. But then she also could not help questioning herself what was normal for them and when would there be some respite.
When Leima noticed that Rajen was looking for the small transistor, she knew that her husband was preparing for early bed. And so she also decided to join him soon. Soon she heard Rajen tuning to the BBC World News. And sure enough, there was major news on the land trouble in Zimbabwe between the government and the land-owning white farmers. She did not say a word as she saw her husband intently listening to the news. Almost immediately after the news, Rajen spoke out, ‘So we are not the only ones who have troubles. The world is one little nice place with troubles evenly spread from Zimbabwe to Burma to Philippines to Indonesia.’
The news sobered her husband. Rajen then pulled out his note pad and wrote, “It’s the land, idiot!” On these was he going to elaborate for his next editorial. Leima shifted by his side almost glad as she found her husband’s right hand spread over her chest. And a little later, as she heard him sending out soft snores his hand was between her legs.
Almost everyone woke up later than usual the next morning. Rajen knew that this was one perfect day to get the car washed.
Soon after his morning tea, he called out, ‘Brother Tomba, where are you? Please come out’.
‘Yes, yes, I am on my way’, replied back Tomba.
‘You are not going out anywhere. I have some work for you. Let’s get the car cleaned thoroughly.’
Tomba did not reply immediately and looked up at Rajen. Rajen seized the moment and asked, ‘Why? Are you going out somewhere? Don’t forget it’s curfew today.’
‘I know. That’s why we have planned for a plastic ball cricket match at the open space behind our land.’ replied Tomba.
‘Great! When did you organize this? So fast. The curfew was announced only last night’, questioned Rajen.
‘It is already eight in the morning. And we have been awake for some time. We decided only this morning. And since the car will not be used today, let’s wash it later’, Tomba said.
‘Okay. So it will be tomorrow. Let’s hope the curfew is there till tomorrow’, Rajen quickly said.
Tomba’s face brightened up as he went out.
To be contd..
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