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Fiction

A Wagtail’s Song

By Bikash Dihingia
Translated from Assamese by Harsita Hiya
In this short story by Assamese writer Bikash Dihingia, a "model boy" grapples with his sexuality and his feelings for his best friend.


Video: Bikash Dihingia reads a section of “A Wagtail’s Song” in the original Assamese.

Do we find every answer we seek?

Is life all about solving questions without answers, or finding questions for the answers we already have? The beauty of a garden is said to fade once the wilting flowers are plucked out. Is this what happens to the pleasures of life when we bury the past in favor of the present?

Closing both my diary and my eyes, I leaned back in my chair. The ceiling fan whirred overhead with a faint melody. My desk lamp gazed down at the diary as though trying to read its pages. The only other light came from a low-watt blue bulb, and from a cluster of fireflies that had flown in through the open window, adding their glow to the tiny room.

My exams were coming up, the pressure rising day by day.

School in the mornings. Private classes in the evenings. Homework at night. After dinner, I would study until about one or two a.m., then wake up at six sharp the next day to tackle the same routine. My only personal time came in a few moments around midnight. Every night, after the clock struck twelve, I took out my diary and poured into its pages all the thoughts that had been badgering me during the day.

I owned those minutes. They were mine alone. Even though I never let a day go by without opening my diary, I wasn’t always able to find something to put in it. I was often seized by despair and emptiness, by messy thoughts and unhappy images, when I sat down to write.

At times like this I yearned for a cigarette, so that I could release all my troubling thoughts with the smoke, but I couldn’t summon the mental strength to light one. I wanted to bawl my heart out too, but I couldn’t do that either.

I was a boy, you see, and boys didn’t cry.

I was a good boy, and good boys avoided bad habits and rude language.

I was a model boy, in fact—and model boys respected their elders and heeded their parents.

“There’s another you within you. A you chained up inside your mind. That is the you I see and feel.”

The Silkori was flowing quietly in front of us. Wagtails were prancing around on the grassy bank, dancing and burying their noses in the sand. We were sitting together in silence that afternoon beneath the hollong trees, watching the water flow past. That was when he had spoken up, interrupting the stillness.

For the longest time, his words kept ringing in my ears.

Another me within?

What a strange claim! How was it possible that there was another me buried within? And how could someone else feel his presence even before I could?

I knew he had far greater knowledge and a better understanding of things than I did. I was not as worldly. I had never learned to be, nor had I found ways to seek such experience.

The wagtails looked on as he laid his head on my lap and closed his eyes, his nostrils flaring with every breath.

Emotions never felt before awakened in my heart.

“I will have to go away after the annual exams,” I whispered hesitantly to him—my best friend, Surya Deep—running my fingers through his hair.

In a flash, he grabbed my hand and placed it over his chest.

“Where?” he asked, looking up at me from my lap.

His heartbeats traveled through my palm, becoming one with my own pounding heart. I couldn’t understand what his eyes wanted to tell me then. I didn’t realize what he had said without speaking.

“My father has been transferred to Guwahati,” I answered. I couldn’t keep looking at him. I saw him tearing up. It was as if he wanted those tears to lead him to me—so that he could swim across the salty stream into my eyes and travel downward to make his home in a corner of my heart.

Lost in his eyes, I became a stranger to myself as I uttered those words—all because of that unfamiliar sensation stirring within.

A boat suddenly came into view near the opposite bank of the Silkori. Someone was out fishing in the river.

How badly I wanted to embrace Surya, but how could I? Boys weren’t supposed to hug boys. Boys weren’t supposed to be attracted to boys either. I recoiled from myself in fear.

Was I not a boy then? The other me he was talking about—was he like our classmate Pallav?

Pallav had been bullied by everyone in our class. The boys taunted him for his effeminacy, calling him Maiki and Leddis—“female”—and Pallavi, the feminine form of his name. It was no surprise that he preferred the company of the girls, though he often burst into tears around them, too.

I am not like him at all. I am normal, just like every other boy, there is no other me hiding within, I assured myself.

Back then, almost all our classmates and teachers knew how close Surya and I were. If one was absent, the other would mope.

Ours was a higher secondary school with many students, so, our class was divided into three sections. Surya was in Section C at first, but that year, the teachers transferred him to mine, Section B. I barely knew him before that. He had been no more than another classmate, our interactions limited to saying hello to each other, to thumps on the back while passing each other in the hallway.

One day, I left class to get a drink of water. It was the science period for Section C. Surya was absent-mindedly staring out the window. Walking past him, I noticed he had a smaller book concealed within his science textbook. Feeling a pair of eyes on him, Surya scrambled to hide the book. He must have thought a teacher had spotted him. When he saw me, however, he abandoned his efforts and, squinting at me, covered his mouth to stifle his giggles.

I felt an odd sort of joy.

What was the book? I wondered. Why had he chosen to read it instead of paying attention to his lessons?

How desperate I was to talk to him.

Did his parents love him the way my parents loved me, I wanted to ask him. Did they too make him kneel in the courtyard for hiding other books inside his textbooks? Did he lie about things? Did he know how to swim? All these questions, and many more.

It didn’t take long for us to become best friends after his transfer to Section B. We often jumped over the school wall during recess in those days to sneak off to the riverbank. Sitting by the coolly flowing Silkori, he would tell me stories from all the books he had read, while I coached him on the things he was unable to understand in class. He taught me how to sky-gaze, climb trees, and float in the river, while I . . .

Actually, I couldn’t teach him anything meaningful.

“I don’t miss home when I’m with you,” he would often tell me before parting.

Away from the monotonous life my parents had forced upon me, Surya Deep opened up a wide new world to me. When I was with him I forgot all my parents’ warnings and rules, the way they worried about me. Even my memories of canings faded.

Unfortunately, the two of us were caught one day. Our principal called up our parents and made a point of telling us off in front of the entire school. Grief clouded my father’s eyes. I wanted to cry my heart out, but no matter how agonizing it was, I couldn’t let myself break down. I remembered how everyone had teased Pallav.

“Oi, are you a maiki? Crying over the smallest things! Can’t we have a little fun with you? Leddis, salla!”

No, I could not let myself break down. 

Away from prying eyes, I felt Surya squeezing my hand.

When we returned home, my mother made me kneel in the courtyard. I did as I was told without a word of protest.

“What has come over you?” she kept asking me. “Why did you go to the river with that boy? Didn’t you stop to think what would become of us if something happened to you?”

I had no answers. I remained kneeling with my head bent, staring at the ground as I counted the strokes of the cane on my back. Surprisingly, I felt no tears welling up. Perhaps I had already become as impervious as a stone.

My parents brought me up with a great deal of love, but also with an extremely firm hand. My father had given my mother free rein to discipline me however she saw fit. My grandparents and other relatives were strictly forbidden from interfering in the matter, for such attempts had always led to arguments in the household.

The years went by and I grew older, but my parents continued treating me like a child. They still dictated all my likes and dislikes. Every day they reminded me of the sacrifices and hardships they had endured for my sake. Against every dream of mine they pitted at least a dozen things they had been forced to give up on my account. I had learned by now that I was nothing more than the fruit of their labor. The sole aim of my existence was to realize their unfulfilled dreams.

“There’s another you within you.” Surya’s words echoed in my head.

That afternoon, we had made our first and last visit to the river after getting caught. Our annual examinations were looming; they were barely a week away.

I was furious with him. Perhaps because he wanted to introduce me to the one I had kept hidden. The side of me I wasn’t yet ready to meet.

“I never want to talk to you again,” I told him. Then I walked back home without looking back.

We were so young then. We were the same age, but Surya knew more of the world. He was far better with feelings too. His mind was freer, more open than mine. I had always envied him for this, even if unconsciously.

But the envy turned into fury that afternoon. After all, he had discovered my hidden self before I had. I could have anticipated it. But Surya, like his name, was the sun itself. A shining star unable to conceal his light.

“Who are you running from, me or yourself?” he had cried out, watching me walk away.

My anger grew even more, engulfing me.

***

Guwahati wasn’t an entirely unfamiliar place. I had accompanied my mother to this concrete jungle many times during the holidays to visit her brother—my maama—who lived in the city with his family. When my father chose to take a transfer to Guwahati from Bokulbari, it was my maama who helped our family buy a small piece of land in the city. The construction of our new home began immediately afterwards.

Oh, to think of the many dreams I had to leave behind in Bokulbari! Plans for a long stay at my dear friend’s home after our examinations, plans to go around the neighborhood during Bihu singing together, plans to look for baby parrots in the forest on the opposite bank of the Silkori . . .

But my parents had already made up their minds.

Ma had never liked living in Bokulbari. I knew this well enough. The conservative society in the village had kept my progressive mother from dressing and behaving the way she wanted. She had borne it all for the sake of my father, who dearly loved the place where he had been born and brought up.

But, deeply concerned about my education, Ma had often made sharp remarks to my father during our final days in Bokulbari.

“He has to get into a good school before his matriculation examinations. Here he will only slip out of control . . .”

Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t any “good school” nearby which could meet my mother’s expectations.

Then there were my maama’s calls, adding to the pressure.

“He will have to take his matric exams in two years! How will he get good marks if he stays put in that village of yours? Send him to us. We’ll get him admitted here, and—”

But there was no question of my mother letting me live on my own. And as for my father . . .

At last, after much deliberation, the decision was made. My father set about making arrangements for his transfer, proving once again how much he loved me.

For the sake of my future alone, he left his home in Bokulbari to settle elsewhere. The list of everything my parents had forsaken for me had now grown heavier.

The new chapter of my life in the glitzy city began as I started in class nine at an expensive and reputed Guwahati school.

How odd, how peculiar city life was.

My classmates welcomed me by teasing me and calling me a gaonliya—a country bumpkin. They also taught me how to swear. I learned a new curse every day.

“Oi! Stay away from Xopun. He is gay.” Two of my new classmates-cum-self-proclaimed-well-wishers told me once. Still immersed in my past, I wasn’t yet spending time with anyone new. Xopun had merely tried to be friendly.

“Gay? What does that mean?”

The boys burst out laughing. I had sealed my own reputation as a gaonliya.

“It means he likes boys!”

Their explanation gave me goosebumps. The afternoons spent with Surya by the river began spinning around in my head.

But I wasn’t ready to be another Xopun, to be teased or bullied or made a laughingstock. So I imitated the other boys.

I grew more and more wayward by the day. I abused substances I never intended to touch. Devoured films I never intended to watch. I was drawn to every forbidden thing. I was forcing myself to become like my classmates, while still trying to be the son my parents wanted.

It was all so tiring at times. Lonely too. I missed Surya constantly, longing to leave everything behind and sit beside him by the river.

It had taken me too long to realize that he was the only one who truly knew me. That day on the riverbank, he had been trying to help me prepare for war. A war I hadn’t seen coming at the time.

I slowly tried to do away with my memories of him after leaving Bokulbari.

I never went back to our old home after moving away. I fell in love several times in those days (or pretended to?). I did everything I could. I relished the forbidden joys of youth, and yet, I never felt happy. Not truly.

Even during the most intimate moments with my lovers, Surya’s flared nostrils kept flashing before my eyes. The soft curves of a girl against my ribs only reminded me of the way Surya’s chest heaved with every breath. My relationships never lasted. My lovers always left me.

I couldn’t find anyone else to share the restlessness inside me. It wasn’t like I didn’t try, but there was hardly anything more I could do without risking my reputation and becoming the butt of everyone’s jokes. What I wanted most of all was to lead a normal life.

In trying to find someone who understood me, someone who could fill my heart with light, I faced one disappointment after the other. I was desperate to meet Surya. I missed him so much.

Him. Bokulbari. The Silkori. The prancing wagtails.

The more I tried to forget them all, the stronger the memories became over time.

I even tried to stalk him on social media, but he was nowhere to be found.

“Is he even alive?”

A hidden desire to be reunited with him kept all such thoughts at bay. How is he, I wanted to know, how does he spend his days without me?

And yet, I was hesitant to ask any of my acquaintances about Surya. (My attempt, I suppose, at what they call sulking.)

Does he not think of me at all, I wondered?

I busied myself working to fulfill my parents’ dreams. After all, they had sacrificed everything for me. I was the only one they loved; this was why I didn’t even have siblings. 

To calm down, I started writing in my diary. By now, I was aware that I had begun harboring resentment toward my parents. I no longer loved them as much as I was supposed to. Yet, I couldn’t deny that they had my best interests at heart. They were only tough on me because they loved me.

“I have grown up, Ma.” I often wanted to scream. “I know the difference between good and bad. I know which paths to take and which to avoid. Let me breathe freely, Deuta. Let me think for myself. Let me choose!”

My screams remained black letters scribbled across the diary’s pages.

“Ma, I am only straying further, you know? Deuta, I no longer feel attached to the two of you. I know this is a bad thing, but I just can’t seem to love you anymore, no matter how hard I try. And yet, I cannot protest—you gave birth to me. Gave up so much for my sake! I have to do my part and give back. I have to return what I owe you. I cannot upset you at any cost.”

The lock screen of my phone lit up, accompanied by a slight vibration.

Surya Deep sent you a friend request.

The words shook me to the core. Thump-thump-thump . . . my heart was hammering away.

I clicked through to his profile. A nameless hope had walked into my life after such a long time, filling me with happiness. I could barely wait to see my dear friend for the first time after five long years.

But his page rekindled all my indecision. The sight of him in his profile picture, smiling next to a girl, triggered a pang in my heart.

This was the kind of feeling that had kept me from loving myself, kept me from being comfortable with who I was.

Now I could feel something stopping me from accepting the request.

Why? Why did this keep happening to me? Why did these feelings I was so desperate to deny keep forcing me to be attracted to Surya?

Was this what they called love?

I sat up in shock.

No, I couldn’t let this happen. My parents would lose face. What would my classmates say? And the girls who had left me? I did not want to be a rumor. I did not want to be a topic of ridicule and gossip.

I shut the window, closed my diary, and turned off the light. At last, I fell back on my bed.

“That is the you I know and feel.” A young Surya’s voice reverberated in my ears.

The Silkori looked swollen. Rows of crepe-myrtle blossoms stood swaying on its banks as Surya held me in his arms beneath the hollong trees. One of the dancing wagtails came to perch upon his shoulder. Our breaths mingled. His sweaty nose brushed against my nostrils. A boat made its way to us across the Silkori. With a smile, Surya took the hand of the girl who had rowed up on the boat. Crepe-myrtle petals filled the river. I kept looking at the two of them from under the tree. The river flowed on as I stood and stared. They went down the purple water, eventually disappearing in the distance.

A vacuum engulfed my heart. The wagtail came to sit on my shoulder. A scream rose in my chest.

At that moment, I awoke with a shudder. I now had even more questions for Surya, the one who had haunted my dreams until sunrise.

Did he too yearn for me as I did for him?

How was he? Where had he been all these years? Did he ever think of me in the days we were apart?

My phone buzzed the moment I turned it on.

You have a new message.

The message was from Surya.

Why do leaves fall in the autumn?

Why do partings bring sorrow?

Why do the banks stand still while the river moves?

Once again I had no answers, only a hundred questions wriggling in my head. My pride evaporated. I began typing a reply.

By now, the sun had emerged smiling, disturbing the sleep of the concrete jungle.

I stood up and opened the window toward the east. A million rays of sun, of Surya, rushed in to caress my face.


© Bikash Dihingia. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2022 by Hiya Harsita. All rights reserved. Developed through the Write Assamese project, a collaboration between Untold and BEE Books, supported by the British Council and KfW Stiftung. This story will appear in the anthology
A Fistful of Moonlight: Stories from Assam, forthcoming in 2023 from BEE Books in India and MacLehose Press in the UK.

English Assamese


Video: Bikash Dihingia reads a section of “A Wagtail’s Song” in the original Assamese.

Do we find every answer we seek?

Is life all about solving questions without answers, or finding questions for the answers we already have? The beauty of a garden is said to fade once the wilting flowers are plucked out. Is this what happens to the pleasures of life when we bury the past in favor of the present?

Closing both my diary and my eyes, I leaned back in my chair. The ceiling fan whirred overhead with a faint melody. My desk lamp gazed down at the diary as though trying to read its pages. The only other light came from a low-watt blue bulb, and from a cluster of fireflies that had flown in through the open window, adding their glow to the tiny room.

My exams were coming up, the pressure rising day by day.

School in the mornings. Private classes in the evenings. Homework at night. After dinner, I would study until about one or two a.m., then wake up at six sharp the next day to tackle the same routine. My only personal time came in a few moments around midnight. Every night, after the clock struck twelve, I took out my diary and poured into its pages all the thoughts that had been badgering me during the day.

I owned those minutes. They were mine alone. Even though I never let a day go by without opening my diary, I wasn’t always able to find something to put in it. I was often seized by despair and emptiness, by messy thoughts and unhappy images, when I sat down to write.

At times like this I yearned for a cigarette, so that I could release all my troubling thoughts with the smoke, but I couldn’t summon the mental strength to light one. I wanted to bawl my heart out too, but I couldn’t do that either.

I was a boy, you see, and boys didn’t cry.

I was a good boy, and good boys avoided bad habits and rude language.

I was a model boy, in fact—and model boys respected their elders and heeded their parents.

“There’s another you within you. A you chained up inside your mind. That is the you I see and feel.”

The Silkori was flowing quietly in front of us. Wagtails were prancing around on the grassy bank, dancing and burying their noses in the sand. We were sitting together in silence that afternoon beneath the hollong trees, watching the water flow past. That was when he had spoken up, interrupting the stillness.

For the longest time, his words kept ringing in my ears.

Another me within?

What a strange claim! How was it possible that there was another me buried within? And how could someone else feel his presence even before I could?

I knew he had far greater knowledge and a better understanding of things than I did. I was not as worldly. I had never learned to be, nor had I found ways to seek such experience.

The wagtails looked on as he laid his head on my lap and closed his eyes, his nostrils flaring with every breath.

Emotions never felt before awakened in my heart.

“I will have to go away after the annual exams,” I whispered hesitantly to him—my best friend, Surya Deep—running my fingers through his hair.

In a flash, he grabbed my hand and placed it over his chest.

“Where?” he asked, looking up at me from my lap.

His heartbeats traveled through my palm, becoming one with my own pounding heart. I couldn’t understand what his eyes wanted to tell me then. I didn’t realize what he had said without speaking.

“My father has been transferred to Guwahati,” I answered. I couldn’t keep looking at him. I saw him tearing up. It was as if he wanted those tears to lead him to me—so that he could swim across the salty stream into my eyes and travel downward to make his home in a corner of my heart.

Lost in his eyes, I became a stranger to myself as I uttered those words—all because of that unfamiliar sensation stirring within.

A boat suddenly came into view near the opposite bank of the Silkori. Someone was out fishing in the river.

How badly I wanted to embrace Surya, but how could I? Boys weren’t supposed to hug boys. Boys weren’t supposed to be attracted to boys either. I recoiled from myself in fear.

Was I not a boy then? The other me he was talking about—was he like our classmate Pallav?

Pallav had been bullied by everyone in our class. The boys taunted him for his effeminacy, calling him Maiki and Leddis—“female”—and Pallavi, the feminine form of his name. It was no surprise that he preferred the company of the girls, though he often burst into tears around them, too.

I am not like him at all. I am normal, just like every other boy, there is no other me hiding within, I assured myself.

Back then, almost all our classmates and teachers knew how close Surya and I were. If one was absent, the other would mope.

Ours was a higher secondary school with many students, so, our class was divided into three sections. Surya was in Section C at first, but that year, the teachers transferred him to mine, Section B. I barely knew him before that. He had been no more than another classmate, our interactions limited to saying hello to each other, to thumps on the back while passing each other in the hallway.

One day, I left class to get a drink of water. It was the science period for Section C. Surya was absent-mindedly staring out the window. Walking past him, I noticed he had a smaller book concealed within his science textbook. Feeling a pair of eyes on him, Surya scrambled to hide the book. He must have thought a teacher had spotted him. When he saw me, however, he abandoned his efforts and, squinting at me, covered his mouth to stifle his giggles.

I felt an odd sort of joy.

What was the book? I wondered. Why had he chosen to read it instead of paying attention to his lessons?

How desperate I was to talk to him.

Did his parents love him the way my parents loved me, I wanted to ask him. Did they too make him kneel in the courtyard for hiding other books inside his textbooks? Did he lie about things? Did he know how to swim? All these questions, and many more.

It didn’t take long for us to become best friends after his transfer to Section B. We often jumped over the school wall during recess in those days to sneak off to the riverbank. Sitting by the coolly flowing Silkori, he would tell me stories from all the books he had read, while I coached him on the things he was unable to understand in class. He taught me how to sky-gaze, climb trees, and float in the river, while I . . .

Actually, I couldn’t teach him anything meaningful.

“I don’t miss home when I’m with you,” he would often tell me before parting.

Away from the monotonous life my parents had forced upon me, Surya Deep opened up a wide new world to me. When I was with him I forgot all my parents’ warnings and rules, the way they worried about me. Even my memories of canings faded.

Unfortunately, the two of us were caught one day. Our principal called up our parents and made a point of telling us off in front of the entire school. Grief clouded my father’s eyes. I wanted to cry my heart out, but no matter how agonizing it was, I couldn’t let myself break down. I remembered how everyone had teased Pallav.

“Oi, are you a maiki? Crying over the smallest things! Can’t we have a little fun with you? Leddis, salla!”

No, I could not let myself break down. 

Away from prying eyes, I felt Surya squeezing my hand.

When we returned home, my mother made me kneel in the courtyard. I did as I was told without a word of protest.

“What has come over you?” she kept asking me. “Why did you go to the river with that boy? Didn’t you stop to think what would become of us if something happened to you?”

I had no answers. I remained kneeling with my head bent, staring at the ground as I counted the strokes of the cane on my back. Surprisingly, I felt no tears welling up. Perhaps I had already become as impervious as a stone.

My parents brought me up with a great deal of love, but also with an extremely firm hand. My father had given my mother free rein to discipline me however she saw fit. My grandparents and other relatives were strictly forbidden from interfering in the matter, for such attempts had always led to arguments in the household.

The years went by and I grew older, but my parents continued treating me like a child. They still dictated all my likes and dislikes. Every day they reminded me of the sacrifices and hardships they had endured for my sake. Against every dream of mine they pitted at least a dozen things they had been forced to give up on my account. I had learned by now that I was nothing more than the fruit of their labor. The sole aim of my existence was to realize their unfulfilled dreams.

“There’s another you within you.” Surya’s words echoed in my head.

That afternoon, we had made our first and last visit to the river after getting caught. Our annual examinations were looming; they were barely a week away.

I was furious with him. Perhaps because he wanted to introduce me to the one I had kept hidden. The side of me I wasn’t yet ready to meet.

“I never want to talk to you again,” I told him. Then I walked back home without looking back.

We were so young then. We were the same age, but Surya knew more of the world. He was far better with feelings too. His mind was freer, more open than mine. I had always envied him for this, even if unconsciously.

But the envy turned into fury that afternoon. After all, he had discovered my hidden self before I had. I could have anticipated it. But Surya, like his name, was the sun itself. A shining star unable to conceal his light.

“Who are you running from, me or yourself?” he had cried out, watching me walk away.

My anger grew even more, engulfing me.

***

Guwahati wasn’t an entirely unfamiliar place. I had accompanied my mother to this concrete jungle many times during the holidays to visit her brother—my maama—who lived in the city with his family. When my father chose to take a transfer to Guwahati from Bokulbari, it was my maama who helped our family buy a small piece of land in the city. The construction of our new home began immediately afterwards.

Oh, to think of the many dreams I had to leave behind in Bokulbari! Plans for a long stay at my dear friend’s home after our examinations, plans to go around the neighborhood during Bihu singing together, plans to look for baby parrots in the forest on the opposite bank of the Silkori . . .

But my parents had already made up their minds.

Ma had never liked living in Bokulbari. I knew this well enough. The conservative society in the village had kept my progressive mother from dressing and behaving the way she wanted. She had borne it all for the sake of my father, who dearly loved the place where he had been born and brought up.

But, deeply concerned about my education, Ma had often made sharp remarks to my father during our final days in Bokulbari.

“He has to get into a good school before his matriculation examinations. Here he will only slip out of control . . .”

Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t any “good school” nearby which could meet my mother’s expectations.

Then there were my maama’s calls, adding to the pressure.

“He will have to take his matric exams in two years! How will he get good marks if he stays put in that village of yours? Send him to us. We’ll get him admitted here, and—”

But there was no question of my mother letting me live on my own. And as for my father . . .

At last, after much deliberation, the decision was made. My father set about making arrangements for his transfer, proving once again how much he loved me.

For the sake of my future alone, he left his home in Bokulbari to settle elsewhere. The list of everything my parents had forsaken for me had now grown heavier.

The new chapter of my life in the glitzy city began as I started in class nine at an expensive and reputed Guwahati school.

How odd, how peculiar city life was.

My classmates welcomed me by teasing me and calling me a gaonliya—a country bumpkin. They also taught me how to swear. I learned a new curse every day.

“Oi! Stay away from Xopun. He is gay.” Two of my new classmates-cum-self-proclaimed-well-wishers told me once. Still immersed in my past, I wasn’t yet spending time with anyone new. Xopun had merely tried to be friendly.

“Gay? What does that mean?”

The boys burst out laughing. I had sealed my own reputation as a gaonliya.

“It means he likes boys!”

Their explanation gave me goosebumps. The afternoons spent with Surya by the river began spinning around in my head.

But I wasn’t ready to be another Xopun, to be teased or bullied or made a laughingstock. So I imitated the other boys.

I grew more and more wayward by the day. I abused substances I never intended to touch. Devoured films I never intended to watch. I was drawn to every forbidden thing. I was forcing myself to become like my classmates, while still trying to be the son my parents wanted.

It was all so tiring at times. Lonely too. I missed Surya constantly, longing to leave everything behind and sit beside him by the river.

It had taken me too long to realize that he was the only one who truly knew me. That day on the riverbank, he had been trying to help me prepare for war. A war I hadn’t seen coming at the time.

I slowly tried to do away with my memories of him after leaving Bokulbari.

I never went back to our old home after moving away. I fell in love several times in those days (or pretended to?). I did everything I could. I relished the forbidden joys of youth, and yet, I never felt happy. Not truly.

Even during the most intimate moments with my lovers, Surya’s flared nostrils kept flashing before my eyes. The soft curves of a girl against my ribs only reminded me of the way Surya’s chest heaved with every breath. My relationships never lasted. My lovers always left me.

I couldn’t find anyone else to share the restlessness inside me. It wasn’t like I didn’t try, but there was hardly anything more I could do without risking my reputation and becoming the butt of everyone’s jokes. What I wanted most of all was to lead a normal life.

In trying to find someone who understood me, someone who could fill my heart with light, I faced one disappointment after the other. I was desperate to meet Surya. I missed him so much.

Him. Bokulbari. The Silkori. The prancing wagtails.

The more I tried to forget them all, the stronger the memories became over time.

I even tried to stalk him on social media, but he was nowhere to be found.

“Is he even alive?”

A hidden desire to be reunited with him kept all such thoughts at bay. How is he, I wanted to know, how does he spend his days without me?

And yet, I was hesitant to ask any of my acquaintances about Surya. (My attempt, I suppose, at what they call sulking.)

Does he not think of me at all, I wondered?

I busied myself working to fulfill my parents’ dreams. After all, they had sacrificed everything for me. I was the only one they loved; this was why I didn’t even have siblings. 

To calm down, I started writing in my diary. By now, I was aware that I had begun harboring resentment toward my parents. I no longer loved them as much as I was supposed to. Yet, I couldn’t deny that they had my best interests at heart. They were only tough on me because they loved me.

“I have grown up, Ma.” I often wanted to scream. “I know the difference between good and bad. I know which paths to take and which to avoid. Let me breathe freely, Deuta. Let me think for myself. Let me choose!”

My screams remained black letters scribbled across the diary’s pages.

“Ma, I am only straying further, you know? Deuta, I no longer feel attached to the two of you. I know this is a bad thing, but I just can’t seem to love you anymore, no matter how hard I try. And yet, I cannot protest—you gave birth to me. Gave up so much for my sake! I have to do my part and give back. I have to return what I owe you. I cannot upset you at any cost.”

The lock screen of my phone lit up, accompanied by a slight vibration.

Surya Deep sent you a friend request.

The words shook me to the core. Thump-thump-thump . . . my heart was hammering away.

I clicked through to his profile. A nameless hope had walked into my life after such a long time, filling me with happiness. I could barely wait to see my dear friend for the first time after five long years.

But his page rekindled all my indecision. The sight of him in his profile picture, smiling next to a girl, triggered a pang in my heart.

This was the kind of feeling that had kept me from loving myself, kept me from being comfortable with who I was.

Now I could feel something stopping me from accepting the request.

Why? Why did this keep happening to me? Why did these feelings I was so desperate to deny keep forcing me to be attracted to Surya?

Was this what they called love?

I sat up in shock.

No, I couldn’t let this happen. My parents would lose face. What would my classmates say? And the girls who had left me? I did not want to be a rumor. I did not want to be a topic of ridicule and gossip.

I shut the window, closed my diary, and turned off the light. At last, I fell back on my bed.

“That is the you I know and feel.” A young Surya’s voice reverberated in my ears.

The Silkori looked swollen. Rows of crepe-myrtle blossoms stood swaying on its banks as Surya held me in his arms beneath the hollong trees. One of the dancing wagtails came to perch upon his shoulder. Our breaths mingled. His sweaty nose brushed against my nostrils. A boat made its way to us across the Silkori. With a smile, Surya took the hand of the girl who had rowed up on the boat. Crepe-myrtle petals filled the river. I kept looking at the two of them from under the tree. The river flowed on as I stood and stared. They went down the purple water, eventually disappearing in the distance.

A vacuum engulfed my heart. The wagtail came to sit on my shoulder. A scream rose in my chest.

At that moment, I awoke with a shudder. I now had even more questions for Surya, the one who had haunted my dreams until sunrise.

Did he too yearn for me as I did for him?

How was he? Where had he been all these years? Did he ever think of me in the days we were apart?

My phone buzzed the moment I turned it on.

You have a new message.

The message was from Surya.

Why do leaves fall in the autumn?

Why do partings bring sorrow?

Why do the banks stand still while the river moves?

Once again I had no answers, only a hundred questions wriggling in my head. My pride evaporated. I began typing a reply.

By now, the sun had emerged smiling, disturbing the sleep of the concrete jungle.

I stood up and opened the window toward the east. A million rays of sun, of Surya, rushed in to caress my face.


© Bikash Dihingia. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2022 by Hiya Harsita. All rights reserved. Developed through the Write Assamese project, a collaboration between Untold and BEE Books, supported by the British Council and KfW Stiftung. This story will appear in the anthology
A Fistful of Moonlight: Stories from Assam, forthcoming in 2023 from BEE Books in India and MacLehose Press in the UK.

খঞ্জন পখীৰ গান

‘বিচৰা সকলো প্ৰশ্নৰে উত্তৰ পোৱা যায়নে ? উত্তৰবিহীন প্ৰশ্নৰ উত্তৰ বিচৰাটোৱেই জীৱন নে হাতত থকা প্ৰশ্নহীন উত্তৰৰ বাবে প্ৰশ্নৰ সন্ধান মানে জীৱন ? মৰহা ফুলবোৰ চিঙি দিয়াৰ পিছত ফুলনিৰ সৌন্দৰ্য্য যেনেকৈ ম্লান হৈ পৰে তেনেকৈ অতীতক পাহৰি নতুনৰ মাজত জী থাকিব বিচাৰিলেও কমি যায় নেকি জীয়াই থকাৰ মাদকতা ?…’

…ডায়েৰিখন জপাই চকুদুটা মুদি চকীখনত মূৰটো পিছলৈ হলাই গাটো এৰি দিওঁ‌। চিলিং ফেনখন লাহে লাহে ঘূৰি বতাহত মৃদু সুৰ এটা তোলে। সৰু কোঠাটোত তললৈ মূৰ কৰি টেবুল লাইটটোৱে মেলা ডায়েৰিখন পঢ়ি থাকে। খোলা খিৰিকিৰে দুই এজনী জোনাকী সোমাই আহি চুকে কোণে টিপ–টিপাই ফুৰে।

সন্মুখত পৰীক্ষা। পঢ়াৰ প্ৰেচাৰ বাঢ়িছে দিনে দিনে।

দিনত কলেজ, আবেলি টিউচন, ৰাতিলৈ এচাইনমেন্ট। নিশা ভাত খাই উঠি এক–দুই বজালৈকে পঢ়ি পুনৰ ছয় বজাত উঠি দৈনিক ৰুটিনৰ বাবে সাজু হওঁ‌। একান্ত ব্যক্তিগত হিচাপে মাজনিশাৰ এই সময়কণ মোৰ। বাৰ বজাৰ পিছত দিনটোত আমনি কৰি থকা অসংখ্য চিন্তা–ভাৱনাবোৰ সন্মুখত উবুৰিয়াই ডায়েৰিখন মেলি লওঁ‌।

এইখিনি সময় মোৰ নিজৰ, ঐকান্তিক। প্ৰতিদিনেই ডায়েৰি উলিয়াই বহো যদিও সদায়েই লিখা নহয়গৈ। লিখিবলৈ বহিলেই জুমুৰি দি ধৰেহি হতাশাই, শূন্যতাই; কিছুমান ডুখৰীয়া ছবি আৰু বিশৃংখল কথাই।

এনেসময়ত খুব মন যায় চিগাৰট এটা হুঁপিবলৈ। মনৰ মাজৰ সকলো খেলি–মেলি ভাবনা ধোঁৱাৰ সতে উৰুৱাই দিবলৈ। কিন্তু নোৱাৰোঁ, মানসিকভাবে সিমানখিনি সবল হ’ব নোৱাৰিলো আজিও।

মন যায় চিঞৰি চিঞৰি কান্দিবলৈ, মই নোৱাৰোঁ।

মই ল’ৰা – ল’ৰাই নাকান্দে।

মই ভাল ল’ৰা – ভাল ল’ৰাই বেয়া বস্তু নাখায়, বেয়া মাত নেমাতে।

মই আদৰ্শ ল’ৰা – আদৰ্শৱান ল’ৰাই ডাঙৰক সন্মান কৰে, মাক–দেউতাকৰ কথা আখৰে আখৰে পালন কৰে।

 

“তোমাৰ ভিতৰত তুমি এটা আছা। যাক তুমি মনৰ ভিতৰত বান্ধি ৰাখিছা। মই তোমাক অনুভৱ কৰিব পাৰোঁ।” – শিলকড়ী বৈ আছিল নীৰৱে। হঠাতে নিৰ্জনতা ভাঙি সি লাহেকৈ কৈ উঠিছিল।

দূবৰিয়ে ছানি ধৰিব খোজা পাৰৰ বালিখিনি খুচৰি বালিমাহী কেইজনীমানে দেওদি ফুৰিছিল। তাৰ মাজতে ঠিয় দি থকা হোলোং কেইজোপাৰ তলত আমি বহি আছিলো বৈ যোৱা নৈখন চাই।

 

বহুসময়লৈকে মোৰ কাণত বাজি ৰৈছিল কথাষাৰ।

‘মোৰ ভিতৰৰ মই ? ই কেনে আচহুৱা কথা ! মোৰ ভিতৰত আন এটা মই থাকিব আৰু সেইটো মই অনুভৱ কৰাৰ সলনি আনে অনুভৱ কৰিব, ই জানো হ’ব পাৰে ?’

মই জানো যে সি মোতকৈ বেছি কথা বুজি পায়, জানে। মই তাৰ দৰে অনুভৱী নহয়। আচলতে মই অনুভৱী হ’বলৈ শিকাই নাই হয়তো ! হয়তো শিকাৰ সুৰুঙা পোৱা নাই।

সি মোৰ কোলাত মূৰ থৈ শুই পৰিছিল। বালিমাহী কেইজনীয়ে ৰৈ ৰৈ চাইছিল। উশাহত তাৰ নাকৰ পাহি কেইটা উঠা–নমা কৰিছিল। মোৰ বুকুত কিছুমান আগতে অনুভৱ নকৰা আবেগে দোলা দি গৈছিল।

“বছৰেকীয়া পৰীক্ষাৰ পিছত মই ইয়াৰ পৰা যাবগৈ লাগিব।” – কওঁ‌ নকওঁ‌কৈ তাক কৈছিলো, মোৰ প্ৰিয় বন্ধুক; সূৰ্যদীপক। তাৰ চুলিত মই আঙুলি বুলাই আছিলো কথাষাৰ কওঁ‌তে।

ঘপকৈ মোৰ হাতখন ধৰি সি তাৰ বুকুত ৰাখিছিল। মোৰ কোলাত পৰি থাকিয়েই চকু মেলি মোৰ চকুত চকু থৈ সুধিছিল – “ক’লৈ !”

তাৰ কলিজাৰ সেই ঢপ–ঢপ শব্দ হাতৰ তলুৱাৰে সৰকি মোৰ কলিজাৰ গতিৰ সতে মিলি গৈছিল। তাৰ চকুৱে তেতিয়া কি ক’ব খুজিছিল মই বুজা নাছিলো। মই বুজা নাছিলো সি মুখেৰে নোকোৱা কথাবোৰ।

“দেউতাই ট্ৰেঞ্চফাৰ লৈছে গুৱাহাটীলৈ…” – মই তাৰ চকুলৈ চাই থাকিব পৰা নাছিলো। তাৰ চকু দুটা চল–চলিয়া হৈ আহিছিল। যেন সেই জলপথেৰে সি মোৰ চকুৰ মাজেৰে বুকুৰ কোনোবা কোণলৈ সোমাই যাব খুজিছিল !

মোৰ নিজকে অচিনাকি যেন লাগিছিল – কথাষাৰ কওঁ‌তে, তাৰ চকুলৈ চাওঁ‌তে; মোৰ ভিতৰত খপজপাই উঠা আচহুৱা অনুভৱটোৰ বাবে।

 

সিপাৰৰ ঘাটত নাও এখন শিলকড়ীৰ পানীত ভাঁহি আছিল।

কোনোবাই নাৱত বহি বৰশী বাই আছিল।

 

মোৰ সূৰ্যক সাবটি ধৰিবলৈ মন গৈছিল। মই পৰা নাছিলো। মই জানিছিলোঁ যে ল’ৰাই ল’ৰাক সাবটি নধৰে, ল’ৰাই ল’ৰাৰ প্ৰতি এনে আকৰ্ষণ অনুভৱ নকৰে। মোৰ নিজলৈ ভয় লাগি আহিছিল।

তেনে মই কি ল’ৰা নহয় নেকি ! সি যে ক’লে মোৰ ভিতৰৰ মই, সেয়া কি পল্লৱৰ দৰে !?

কিয় মোৰ বুকুখন গধুৰ হৈ আহিছিল মই বুজা নাছিলো। মই বৰ অসহজ অনুভৱ কৰিছিলো।

লগৰ পল্লৱক বহুতে ‘মাইকী’ বুলি মাতিছিল, ‘লেডিজ’ বুলি জোকাইছিল। এচামৰ বাবে পল্লৱ হৈ পৰিছিল পল্লৱী ! সি ছোৱালীবোৰৰ লগতে থাকিছিল আৰু অলপতে কান্দি দিছিল।

‘মই পল্লৱৰ দৰে মুঠেই নহয়। মই আন ল’ৰাৰ দৰেই সাধাৰণ ল’ৰা। মোৰ ভিতৰত অইন কোনো মই নাই।’ – মই নিজকে বুজাইছিলোঁ।

 

সূৰ্যদীপ আৰু মোৰ বন্ধুত্ব গভীৰ, সেইটো গোটেই ক্লাছৰ ল’ৰা ছোৱালীয়ে জানে। কোনোবা এটা স্কুললৈ কিবা কাৰণে নাহিলে আনটোৰ মন দিনটো মৰি থাকে – এই কথা ছাৰ–বাইদেউহঁ‌তেও জানে।

স্কুলখন হায়াৰ চেকেণ্ডেৰী হোৱা বাবে ছাত্ৰ–ছাত্ৰীৰ সংখ্যাও সৰহ আছিল। অষ্টম শ্ৰেণীৰে সকলোবোৰ ছাত্ৰ-ছাত্ৰীক একেটা কোঠাত নধৰে বাবে শাখা হিচাপে ভাগ কৰি তিনিটা কোঠাত বহাইছিল।

আগৰবাৰ সি ‘গ’ শাখাত আছিল। সেইবাৰ তাক ছাৰহঁ‌তে আমাৰ ‘খ’ লৈ আনিছিল। ‘খ’ লৈ অহাৰ আগত তাৰ সতে বৰ বিশেষ চিনাকি নাছিল। ক্লাছৰ আন ল’ৰা–ছোৱালীৰ দৰেই সিও মোৰ সাধাৰণ লগৰীয়া আছিল। দেখিলে মাত দিয়া, পিঠিত ঢকা এটা দি দৌৰি আঁ‌তৰা – এনেধৰণৰ ধেমালী কৰিব পৰা এটা সাধাৰণ লগৰীয়া।

এদিন ক্লাছ চলি থাকোঁতে পিয়াহ লগাত ছাৰক সুধি বাহিৰলৈ গৈছিলো। সিহঁতৰো তেতিয়া বিজ্ঞানৰ ক্লাছ চলি আছিল। কৰিডৰত থকা খিৰিকিখনৰ গাতে লাগি সূৰ্যই অন্যমনষ্ক হৈ বাহিৰলৈ চাই আছিল। কাষেৰে পাৰহৈ আঁ‌হোতে লক্ষ্য কৰিছিলো বিজ্ঞানৰ কিতাপখনৰ মাজত অইন এখন সৰু কিতাপ সোমাই আছিল ! হঠাতে কোনোবাই তেনেকৈ দেখা বুলি অনুভৱ কৰি সি খপজপাই কিতাপখন লুকুৱাবলৈ চেষ্টা কৰিছিল। মোক হয়তো কোনোবা শিক্ষক অহা বুলি ভাবিছিল। মই বুলি জানি সি সেই চেষ্টা বাদ দি চকু কেইটা সৰু কৰি মুখত হাত দি খুক–খুকাই হাঁহি উঠিছিল। মোৰ কিবা এটা ভাল লাগি গৈছিল !

নিয়মমাফিক জীৱনটোত প্ৰথম কাৰোবাৰ প্ৰতি এনে ভাল লগা অনুভৱ হৈছিল। কাৰোবাৰ প্ৰতি আগ্ৰহ অনুভৱ কৰিছিলো।

মই জানিবলৈ উৎসুক হৈ পৰিছিলো – ‘সেইখন কি কিতাপ আছিল। সিনো কিয় ক্লাছত মন নিদি সেইখন পঢ়ি আছিল !’

মোৰ বহুত কথা পাতিবলৈ মন গৈছিল তাৰ সতে। সুধিবলৈ মন গৈছিল – ‘মোৰ দৰে তাকো মাক দেউতাকে মৰম কৰেনে ? এনেকৈ কিতাপৰ মাজত কিতাপ লুকুৱাই পঢ়ি ধৰা পৰিলে চোতালত আঁ‌ঠুকঢ়াই ৰাখেনে ? সি মিছা কথা কয় নে ? সাঁতুৰিব জানেনে ? আদি আদি আদি…।’

সি আমাৰ শাখা লৈ অহাৰ পিছৰে পৰা আমি দুটা ভাল বন্ধু হৈ উঠিছিলো। মাজে মাজে জিৰণিৰ সময়ত স্কুলৰ ৱাল বগাই নৈ পাৰলৈ গুচি গৈছিলোঁ। শিলকড়ীৰ শীতল পাৰত বহি সি পঢ়া বাহিৰা কিতাপবোৰৰ কাহিনী মোক শুনাইছিল আৰু মই তাক সি নুবুজা স্কুলৰ পঢ়াবোৰ বুজাই দিছিলো।

সি শিকাইছিল গছ বগাবলৈ, নদীত উপঙি সাঁতুৰিবলৈ; আকাশ চাবলৈ – মই তাক একো শিকাব পৰা নাছিলো।

“তোমাৰ লগত থাকিলে ঘৰলৈ মনতেই নপৰে।” – ঘৰলৈ উভতিব খুজিলে সি কৈ উঠিছিল প্ৰায়ে।

 

মা–দেউতাৰ গতানুগতিক পৃথিৱীৰ বিপৰীতে সূৰ্যদীপে মোৰ সন্মুখত উন্মুক্ত কৰি দিছিল এখন মই আগতে নেদেখা বহল পৃথিৱী। তাৰ লগত থাকিলে পাহৰি গৈছিলো মা–দেউতাৰ বাধা–নিষেধাজ্ঞা। মই পাহৰি গৈছিলো মা দেউতাই মোক লৈ কৰা চিন্তাবোৰৰ কথা, সৰু-সুৰা ভুলতে পিঠিত পৰা এচাৰিৰ কোববোৰৰ কথা।

কিন্তু এদিন আমি ধৰা–পৰি গৈছিলো।

স্কুলৰ পৰা পলাই যোৱা বাবে পিছদিনা অভিভাৱক মতাই প্ৰিন্সিপাল বাইদেৱে আমাক সকলোৰে আগত লাজ দিছিল। সেইদিনা প্ৰথম মই দেউতাৰ চকুত বিষাদৰ এচমকা ডাৱৰ টগবগাই উঠা দেখিছিলো।

মোৰ বুকুখন হাঁহাকাৰ কৰি উঠিছিল – মা-দেউতাই মোৰ বাবে মনত দুখ পোৱা দেখি। মই ফেঁকুৰি ফেঁকুৰি কান্দিব খুজিছিলো আৰু কান্দিব নোৱাৰি যন্ত্ৰণাত ছটফটাইছিলো। 

“তই ‘মাইকী’ নেকি ঐ, অলপতে কান্দি দিয় যে ? ধেমালীও কৰিব নোৱাৰি নেকি তোৰ লগত। ‘লেডিছ’ চাল্লা।”

পল্লৱক এদিন কোনোবাই জোকাওঁ‌তে কান্দি দিয়াত সি সেইদিনাৰ পৰা ‘মাইকী’ হৈ পৰিছিল। সেয়ে মই কান্দিব খুজিও কান্দিব পৰা নাছিলো।

সূৰ্যই কোনেও নেদেখাকৈ মোৰ হাতখন খামুচি ধৰিছিল।

ঘৰলৈ আহি মায়ে মোক চোতালত আঁ‌ঠু কঢ়াই থৈছিল। মই বিনাপ্ৰতিবাদে আঁ‌ঠু কাঢ়ি আছিলো।

মায়ে মোক বাৰে বাৰে সুধিছিল – “তই এনেকুৱা কিয় হ’লি ? কিয় গৈছিলি তাৰ লগত নদীলৈ ? তোৰ কিবা এটা হোৱা হ’লে আমাৰ কি হ’লহেতেনে ভাবিছনে কেতিয়াবা…”

মোৰ হাতত একো উত্তৰ নাছিল দিবলৈ। মই আঁ‌ঠু কাঢ়ি তলমূৰ কৰি পিঠিত পৰা এচাৰিৰ কোববোৰ হিচাপ কৰিছিলো। আচৰিত যে মোৰ চকুপানী ওলোৱা নাছিল ! হয়তো সেই তেতিয়াই মই ক্ৰমশঃ শিল হ’বলৈ আৰম্ভ কৰিছিলো।

জানিব হোৱাৰে পৰা অত্যধিক মৰম আৰু শাসনৰ মাজত পাৰ কৰিছো দিন। মোক ডাঙৰ কৰাৰ ক্ষেত্ৰত বা শাসন কৰাৰ ক্ষেত্ৰত মাক সকলো স্বাধীনতা দিছিল দেউতাই। ককা–আইতা, বৰতা–বৰমায়ো এইক্ষেত্ৰত হস্তক্ষেপ কৰিবলৈ অপাৰগ আছিল। কাৰণ – তেনে কৰিলেই গৃহযুদ্ধৰ অৱতাৰনা হৈছিল !

মই লাহে লাহে ডাঙৰ হৈ আহিছিলো। মা দেউতাই মোক তেনেই সৰু ল’ৰাৰ দৰে ব্যৱহাৰ কৰিছিল। মোৰ সকলোবোৰ ইচ্ছা–অনিচ্ছা মা–দেউতায়েই নিৰ্দ্ধাৰন কৰিছিল।

মা–দেউতাই মোৰ বাবে কৰা কষ্টবোৰ, ত্যাগবোৰ প্ৰতি নিয়ত মোক সোঁৱৰাই আহিছিল। মোৰ প্ৰতিটো ইচ্ছাৰ বিপৰীতে তেওঁলোকৰ দহটামান ‘ত্যাগ’ থিয় কৰাই দিছিল। মই বুজি উঠিছিলো – ‘মা দেউতাৰ সকলো ত্যাগৰ ফল মই। তেওঁ‌লোকৰ সকলো অপূৰ্ণ সপোন পূৰ কৰাটোৱেই মোৰ জীৱনৰ উদ্দেশ্য।’

 

‘তোমাৰ ভিতৰত তুমি এটা আছা।’ – সূৰ্যৰ কথাষাৰে মোৰ ভিতৰত খলকনি তুলিছিল।

আমি স্কুলৰ পৰা পলাই আহি ধৰা পৰাৰ পিছত সেইদিনা শেষ বাৰৰ বাবে তেনেকৈ ওলাই গৈছিলোঁ। বছৰেকীয়া পৰীক্ষালৈ মাজত মাথোঁ এসপ্তাহ আছিল।

মোৰ তাৰ প্ৰতি খং উঠি আহিছিল অকাৰণে – হয়তো সি মোক মোৰ সতে চিনাকি কৰি দিব খুজিছিল বাবে। হয়তো মই মোক চিনি পাবলৈ প্ৰস্তুত নাছিলো বাবে।

“আজিৰ পৰা তোমাৰ লগত মোৰ কোনো কথা নাই।” – কথাষাৰ কৈ তাক তাতে এৰি উভতি নোচোৱাকৈ ঘৰমূৱা হৈছিলো।

আমি তেতিয়া সৰু আছিলো। সি মোৰ সমান হৈয়ো মোতকৈ বেছি কথা জানিছিল, বেছিকৈ অনুভৱ কৰিব পাৰিছিল। সি মোতকৈ স্বাধীনমনৰ আছিল। হয়তো এইবোৰ কাৰণতে মই নজনাকৈয়ে তাৰ প্ৰতি মোৰ মনত সংগোপনে ঈৰ্ষা ভাব এটা পালন কৰিছিলো।

যিটোৱে সেইদিনা খঙৰ দৰে মনত খুন্দিয়াইছিল। কাৰণ সি মোক মোতকৈ আগত বিচাৰি পাইছিল।

যিটো হয়তো মোৰ বাবে কেতিয়াও কাংক্ষিত নাছিল !

কিন্তু সূৰ্য যেন আছিল তাৰ নামৰ দৰেই এক উজ্জ্বল জ্যোতিষ্ক; যি ঢাকি ৰাখিব নোৱাৰে নিজৰ পোহৰ ! মই গুচি অহা দেখি সি পিছৰ পৰা সুধিছিল – “তুমি নিজৰ পৰা পলাইছা নে মোৰ পৰা ?”

মোক আৰু অলপ খঙে (!) আৱৰি ধৰিছিল।

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মহানগৰখন মোৰ বাবে একেবাৰে অচিনাকি নাছিল। মামাহঁ‌তৰ ঘৰ গুৱাহাটীতে আছিল। বন্ধ পালেই মাৰ সতে ফুৰিবলৈ আহিছিলো এই কংক্ৰিটৰ অৰণ্যলৈ। দেউতাই বকুলবাৰী এৰি মহানগৰলৈ ট্ৰেঞ্চফাৰ লৈছিল ওপৰ মহলত লাগি-ভাগি। মামাহঁ‌তৰ সহায়ত গুৱাহাটীত নিজাকৈ মাটি এডোখৰ হৈছিল আমাৰ। খৰ খেদাকৈ ঘৰ বনোৱাৰ কাম চলিছিল।

ক’ত যে সপোন এৰি আহিছিলো ‘বকুলবাৰী’ত !

মেট্ৰিক পৰীক্ষাৰ বন্ধত প্ৰিয় বন্ধুৰ ঘৰত দীঘলীয়াকৈ থাকিবলৈ যোৱাৰ কথা আছিল। কথা আছিল বিহুত একেলগে নিশা হুঁচৰি গাবলৈ যোৱাৰ, শিলকড়ীৰ সিপাৰৰ হাবিডৰাত ভাটৌ পোৱালি বিচাৰি যোৱাৰ…।

বকুলবাৰী এৰি মা–দেউতাই মহানগৰ বাচি লৈছিল।

মই জানিছিলো – যদিও প্ৰেমত পৰি নিজৰ সকলো এৰি দেউতাৰ সতে গুচি আহিছিল, তথাপি মা বকুলবাৰীত কেতিয়াও সুখী নাছিল। অতি বেছি ৰক্ষণশীল গাঁৱৰ সমাজখনৰ বাবে স্বাধীনমনা মাই ইচ্ছা মতে পিন্ধা–উৰাও কৰিব নোৱাৰিছিল।

তথাপি মায়ে সকলো সহিছিল – হয়তো দেউতাক প্ৰাণভৰি ভালপাইছিল বাবেই। আৰু দেউতাই ভালপাইছিল নিজৰ ওপজা ঠাইক।

মায়ে মাজে মাজে মোৰ পঢ়া–শুনাৰ কথাটোৰে দেউতাক কাণ চোৱাই থাকিছিল – “ইয়াক মেট্ৰিকৰ আগত ভাল স্কুলত দিব লাগিব। ইয়াত থাকিলে ই দিনে দিনে হাতৰ পৰা পিচলিহে গৈ থাকিব।”

ওচৰৰে পাঁ‌জৰে মাৰ সংজ্ঞাবদ্ধ ‘ভাল স্কুল’ নাছিল।

মামাহঁ‌তৰ ঘৰৰ পৰাও প্ৰেচাৰ বাঢ়ি আহিছিল – “দুবছৰৰ পিছত সি মেট্ৰিক দিব, তাত কি ৰিজাল্ট কৰি দিব। তাক ইয়ালৈ পঠাই দিয়া, আমি পঢ়াম ইয়াত।”

মায়ে মোক অকলে এৰি দিয়াৰ প্ৰশ্নই নুঠে। আৰু দেউতা…!

অৱশেষত বহুত বুজা-পৰাৰ পিছত দেউতাই ট্ৰেঞ্চফাৰৰ বাবে সৈমান হৈছিল। কাৰণ দেউতাই সকলোতকৈ বেছি ভালপাইছিল মোক !

 

মোৰ উজ্জ্বল ভৱিষ্যতৰ বাবে দেউতাই বকুলবাৰী এৰিছিল।

মোৰ বাবে মা–দেউতাই কৰা ত্যাগৰ তালিকাত আৰু অলপ ওজন যোগ হৈছিল।

 

মহানগৰৰ জাকজমক পৰিবেশত নামি–দামী স্কুলৰ নৱম শ্ৰেণীত আৰম্ভ হ’ল মোৰ জীৱনৰ নতুন অধ্যায়।

কিমান যে বিচিত্ৰ এই মহানাগৰিক জীৱন !

লগৰবোৰৰ মোক গঞা বুলি জোকাইছিল। নিষিদ্ধ কথা শিকাইছিল। মই সিহঁতৰ পৰাই শিকিছিলো নিত্য নতুন বিচিত্ৰ শব্দ ভাণ্ডাৰ !

“ঐ সপোনৰ পৰা সাৱধানে থাকিবি দেই। সি গে’ হয়।” – লগৰ ‘শুভাকাংক্ষী’ দুজনমানে মোক সাৱধান কৰি দিছিল, যেতিয়া মই এৰি অহা দিনবোৰ মনত পেলাই সকলোৰে পৰা আঁ‌তৰি থাকিবলৈ চেষ্টা কৰোঁতে সপোনে মোৰ সতে বন্ধুত্ব গঢ়িবলৈ বিচাৰিছিল।

“গে’ ? মানে ?” – মোৰ কথাত সিহঁত হাঁহিত ফাটি পৰিছিল। গঞা হিচাপে সেইদিনা সিহঁতৰ মাজত মই স্বীকৃত হৈছিলো।

“মানে সি ল’ৰাহে ভাল পায়।”

মই জিকাৰ খাই উঠিছিলো। সূৰ্যৰ সতে নৈপাৰত কটোৱা সময়বোৰ মনত ঘূৰিবলৈ আৰম্ভ কৰিছিল !

মই সপোনৰ দৰে হ’বলৈ ৰাজী নাছিলো। মই আন ল’ৰাবোৰৰ দৰে হ’ব বিচাৰিছিলো – যাক কোনেও যেতিয়াই তেতিয়াই ইতিকিং নকৰে, ঠাট্টা নকৰে, যাক কোনেও কৌতুকৰ সামগ্ৰী বুলি নাভাবে।

মই বহুত বেয়া কথা শিকিছিলো। অইন ল’ৰাবোৰৰ লগত মিলিবলৈ গৈ খাব নলগা বস্তুও মুখত দিছিলো, চাব নলগা বস্তুও চকু মেলি চাইছিলো। নিষিদ্ধতাৰ প্ৰতি মোৰ আগ্ৰহ বাঢ়িছিল। মই নিজকে সাধাৰণ ল’ৰাৰ শাৰীলৈ তুলিবলৈ সকলোৰে অগোচৰে নিজৰ সতে মোকাবিলা কৰি গৈছিলো আৰু সমান্তৰাল ভাবে মা–দেউতাৰ ‘ভাল ল’ৰাটো’ হ’বলৈ প্ৰাণে–পণে চেষ্টা কৰিছিলো।

মাজে মাজে বৰ ভাগৰুৱা অনুভৱ হৈছিল। খুব অকলশৰীয়া যেন লাগিছিল নিজকে। মোৰ সূৰ্যলৈ মনত পৰিছিল। সকলো এৰি থৈ নৈৰ পাৰত তাৰ সতে বহিবলৈ মন গৈছিল !

বহু দেৰিকৈ মই বুজিবলৈ আৰম্ভ কৰিছিলো যে পৃথিৱীত একমাত্ৰ সিয়েই আছিল, যি মোক বুজিব পাৰিছিল। নৈৰ পাৰত সেইদিনা আচলতে সি মোক এই যুঁজখনৰ বাবে প্ৰস্তুত হ’বলৈ সঁ‌কিয়াই দিছিল, যিটো মই তেতিয়া বুজিবলৈ অপাৰগ আছিলো।

 

 

বকুলবাৰী এৰাৰ পিছত লাহে লাহে মই তাৰ স্মৃতিবোৰো পাহৰিবলৈ যত্ন কৰিছিলো।

মহানগৰমূখী হোৱাৰ পিছত বিগত দিনবোৰত এবাৰো মই বকুলবাৰীলৈ যোৱা নাছিলো। ইতিমধ্যে মই প্ৰেমত পৰিছিলো (নে পৰিবলৈ যত্ন কৰিছিলো ?)। যৌৱনৰ নিষিদ্ধ সোৱাদো পাইছিলো। তথাপি যেন মই সুখী হ’ব পৰা নাছিলো।

প্ৰেমিকাৰ সতে কটাব খোজা নিবিড় মুহূৰ্তবোৰতো সূৰ্যৰ উশাহত ফুলি উঠা নাকৰ পাহি দুটাই মোৰ চকুত তিৰ-বিৰ কৰিছিলহি। প্ৰেমিকাৰ উঠন কোমলতাই মোৰ চেপেটা বুকুত খুন্দা খাওঁ‌তে সূৰ্যৰ বুকুৰ উঠা-নমাক হে যেন মই অনুভৱ কৰিছিলো।

সিহঁতে মোক এৰি গৈছিল বাৰে বাৰে।

মই মনৰ এই অস্থিৰতাবোৰ ভগাই ল’বলৈ কাকো বিচাৰি পোৱা নাছিলো। এনে নহয় যে মই চেষ্টা কৰা নাছিলো – কিন্তু মই কাৰো হাঁহিয়াতৰ পাত্ৰ হ’ব বিচৰা নাছিলো। মই সাধাৰণ জীৱন এটা জীব খুজিছিলো।

 

প্ৰায়েই মই মোক বুজি পোৱা মোৰ মনত পোহৰ সিঁচিব পৰা কাৰোবাক বিচাৰি হাবাথুৰি খাওঁ‌। মোৰ সূৰ্যক লগ পাবৰ মন যায়।

বকুলবাৰী, বৈ যোৱা শিলকড়ী, দেও দি ফুৰা বালিমাহী… এইবোৰ যিমানে পাহৰিবলৈ যত্ন কৰোঁ, যিমানে স্পষ্ট হৈ ধৰা দিয়ে।

চছিয়েল মেডিয়াত তাক বিচাৰি পাত–পাত কৰোঁ। নাই, সি ক’তো নাই।

‘সি জীয়াই আছেটো !’

মনত গোপনে পালি ৰখা তাক পুনৰাই লগ পাব খোজা হেঁপাহটোৱে তেনে কথা মনলৈ আনিবলৈ হাক দিয়ে। সি কিদৰে আছে, কেনেকৈ কটাইছে মই বিহীন দিনবোৰ – মোৰ জানিবলৈ খুব ইচ্ছা যায়। কাৰোবাক তাৰ বিষয়ে সুধিবলৈকো কিবা এক সংকোচবোধে বেৰি ধৰে (তাৰ নামেই কি অভিমান ?)।

‘তাৰ বাৰু মোলৈ মনত নপৰেনে এবাৰো ?’

 

মা দেউতাৰ সপোনবোৰ পূৰ কৰিবলৈ অহৰহ যত্ন কৰোঁ। মোৰ বাবে মা–দেউতাই বহুত ত্যাগ কৰিছে। নিজকে বুজাওঁ – আনকি একমাত্ৰ মোক ভালপায় বাবেই মোৰ ভাই–ভনীও নাই।

মনৰ অস্থিৰতাক কাবু কৰিবলৈ মই ডায়েৰী লিখা আৰম্ভ কৰিছিলো। হয়তো কোনোবাখিনিত মই মা–দেউতাৰ প্ৰতি মনত প্ৰচণ্ড ক্ষোভ পুহি ৰাখিছো। হয়তো মই মা–দেউতাক সিমান ভাল নেপাওঁ‌ যিমান পাব লাগে। কিন্তু মই জানো, মা দেউতাই কেতিয়াও মোৰ বেয়া চিন্তা নকৰে। মোৰ ভালৰ বাবেই তেওঁলোক কঠোৰ হ’ব বিচাৰে।

‘মই ডাঙৰ হ’লো মা, মই বিচাৰ কৰিব পৰা হ’লো কি ভাল কি বেয়া। বাট কি, অবাট কি মই চিনি পাব পৰা হ’লো। দেউতা মোক অকণমান মুকলিকৈ উশাহ ল’বলৈ দিয়া। নিজাকৈ চিন্তা কৰিবলৈ দিয়া, সিদ্ধান্ত ল’বলৈ দিয়া।…’ – মোৰ চিঞৰি চিঞৰি ক’বলৈ মন যায়।

চিঞৰবোৰ ডায়েৰিৰ কোনোবা পৃষ্ঠাত ক’লা আখৰ কিছুমান হৈ পৰি ৰয়।

‘…মই দিনে দিনে বেয়া হৈ গৈ আছো জানা মা। মই তোমালোকৰ প্ৰতি কোনো আবেগ অনুভৱ নকৰা হৈ গৈ আছো দেউতা। মই জানো এইয়া বৰ বেয়া কথা। কিন্তু মই বহু চেষ্টা কৰিয়ো তোমালোকক ভাল পাব নোৱাৰা হৈ আহিছো। কিন্তু মই প্ৰতিবাদো কৰিব নোৱাৰো – তোমালোকে মোক জন্ম দিছা, মোৰ বাবে বহুখিনি ত্যাগ কৰিছা। মই ঋণী তোমালোকৰ ওচৰত। ঋণ পৰিশোধ কৰিব লাগিব – তোমালোকক কোনোপধ্যেই দুখী কৰিব নোৱাৰো মই।’

 

মৃদু জোকাৰনি এটাৰ সতে মোবাইলটোৰ ‘ডিচপ্লে’খন পোহৰ কৰি ‘নটিফিকেচন’ এটা ‘লকস্ক্ৰীণ’ত জিলিকি উঠে।

মন সাগৰৰ জোৱাৰ–ভাটা আতিক্ৰম কৰি বৰ্তমানত লংগৰ পেলাবলৈ মোক কিছুসময় লাগে।

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অনাকাংক্ষিত নটিফিকেচনটোৱে মোক হতভম্ভ কৰি তোলে। ঢপ–ঢপ, ঢপ–ঢপ… বুকুৰ গতি খৰ হয় !

মই তাৰ প্ৰফাইললৈ সোমাই যাওঁ‌। মোৰ ভিতৰচৰা যেন এক অজান আকাংক্ষাত পুলকিত হৈ উঠে। প্ৰায় পাঁচ বছৰৰ পিছত প্ৰিয় বন্ধুক চাবলৈ অধৈৰ্য হৈ পৰোঁ।

প্ৰফাইলটো খুলিয়েই মই সংকুচিত হওঁ‌ – এজনী ছোৱালীৰ সতে একেলগে হাঁহি থকা তাৰ প্ৰফাইল ফটোখন দেখি কিয় জানো বুকুত বিষ এটা অনুভৱ কৰোঁ !

মোৰ এই অনুভৱটোৰ বাবেই নিজক ভাল পাব পৰা নাই কোনোদিন, সহজ হ’ব পৰা নাই নিজৰ ওচৰতেই।

চচিয়েল মেডিয়াত তাৰ বন্ধুত্বৰ প্ৰস্তাৱ গ্ৰহণ কৰিবলৈ মোক কিবা এটাই বাধা দিয়ে।

কিয় এনেকুৱা হৈছে মোৰ ! কিয় মই গ্ৰহণ কৰিব নোৱাৰা অনুভৱ এটাই মোক সূৰ্যৰ প্ৰতি আকৰ্ষণ অনুভৱ কৰোৱাই বাৰে বাৰে ! কিয় ?

ই কি ভালপোৱা !!

মই চমকি উঠো।

নাই, এইয়া হ’বলৈ দিব নোৱাৰোঁ ! মা–দেউতাৰ সন্মানৰ কথা আছে। লগৰবোৰে কি বুলি ক’ব মোক ! আৰু মোক এৰি যোৱা প্ৰেমিকাবোৰে ! মই এটা বাতৰি হৈ কাণে কাণে বিয়পিব নোখোজো ! সিহঁতৰ হাঁহি–তামাচা, আড্ডাৰ এটা বিষয় কোনোপধ্যেই হ’ব নোৱাৰোঁ।

খিৰিকিখন জপাই, ডায়েৰি সামৰি, টেবুল লাইটটো ‘অফ’ কৰি মই বিছনাত বাগৰ দিওঁ‌।

 

‘…মই তোমাক অনুভৱ কৰিব পাৰোঁ।’ – কিশোৰ সূৰ্যৰ মাত ভাঁহি আহে।

শিলকড়ীত পানী বাঢ়ে। নৈৰ পাৰে পাৰে এজাৰ ফুলে হালে–জালে।

সূৰ্যই মোক সাবটি ধৰে হোলোং গছৰ তলত। দেও দি ফুৰা বালিমাহী আহি তাৰ কান্ধত পৰে। মোৰ ঘন হৈ অহা উশাহবোৰত তাৰ নিশাহ এক হয়। তাৰ ঘামত তিতা নাকটোৱে মোৰ নাকৰ পাহি স্পৰ্শ কৰে।

শিলকড়ীৰ পানীফালি নাওখন আমাৰ কাষ চাপি আহে। নাও বাই অহা ছোৱালীজনীৰ হাতত ধৰি সূৰ্যই মোৰ ফালে চাই হাঁহে।

শিলকড়ীৰ পানীত এজাৰ ফুল সৰে।

মই হোলোং গছৰ তলত ৰৈ চাই থাকোঁ সিহঁতলৈ। নৈ খন বৈ থাকে, মই চাই থাকোঁ। সিহঁত গৈ থাকে এজাৰবুলীয়া পানীৰ মাজে মাজে।

বুকুখন এসোপা শূন্যতাই ভৰাই তোলে।

বালিমাহীজনী উৰি আহি মোৰ কান্ধত পৰে। বুকুভেদি কান্দোন এটা বাহিৰ হ’ব খোজে…’

মই সাৰ পাই যাওঁ‌।

সূৰ্যোদয়ৰ আগলৈকে টোপনিত আমনি কৰি থকা সূৰ্যদীপক মোৰ বহু কথা সুধিবলৈ মন যায়।

সুধিবলৈ মন যায় – ‘সিও অনুভৱ কৰে নেকি মোৰ প্ৰতি এনেকুৱা টান..!’

সুধিবলৈ মন যায় – ‘ইমানদিনে সি ক’ত কেনেকৈ আছিল, মোলৈ মনত পৰা নাছিল নে তাৰ ?’

‘You have a new Message Request.’

মোবাইল ডাটা অন কৰাৰ লগে লগে মৃদু জোকাৰণি এটা হাতৰ মুঠিত খপজপাই উঠে। ততাতৈয়াকৈ মই খুলি চাওঁ‌।

সূৰ্যৰ মেছেজ –

“কিয় পকিলেই সৰি পৰে পাত ?

কিয় বিচ্ছেদৰ ইমান বিষাদ ?

কিয় বৈ যায় নদী, ৰৈ থাকে ঘাট ?…”

তাক দিবলৈ মোৰ হাতত একো উত্তৰ নাথাকে, মাথোঁ কিল–বিলাই থাকে থাকে এশ–এবুৰি প্ৰশ্ন।

মোৰ অভিমানবোৰ মুহূৰ্ততে ধোঁৱা হৈ উৰে। তাৰ বন্ধুত্বৰ প্ৰস্তাৱটো গ্ৰহণ কৰি ‘ইনবক্স’ত ত ‘টাইপ’ কৰোঁ –‘সূৰ্য…’।

 

কংক্ৰিটৰ অৰণ্যৰ টোপনি ভাঙি ইতিমধ্যে সূৰ্য উঠি আহে মিচিকি হাঁহি মাৰি।

মই পূৱৰ খিৰিকিখন খুলি দিওঁ।‌ এচেৰেঙা ৰ’দে হুৰমূৰাই সোমাই আহি মোৰ গালে–মুখে হাত ফুৰাই দিয়ে।

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