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Fiction

Roots

By Madhurima Barua
Translated from Assamese by Syeda Shaheen Jeenat Suhailey
A woman finds her hopes and dreams thwarted in this short story by Assamese writer Madhurima Barua.
A man paddles a canoe in a river at sunset
Photo by Inu Etc on Unsplash
Listen to Madhurima Barua read an excerpt from "Roots" in the original Assamese
 
 

The village is named Ouguri, after the lake. Jayanti gazes at the huge lake from the shore. Someone is getting into a canoe to go fishing. The headman’s six-fingered nephew perhaps, a lucky fellow, famous for how his net always snares the heaviest haul. Some say he waits by the lake, hunched in the shadows, accompanied by a fiendish water demon.

Turning her head, Jayanti sees her son, Deepak, sitting patiently with two fishing rods, waiting for the floaters to move. She is irritated. After passing his higher secondary examination he had attended Soingaon College for a couple of years. But after flunking out, he now wastes his time fishing or wandering around the village. As she walks along the shore, she also sees her eldest daughter, Joya, moving the day’s catch from the bamboo traps, the jakoi into the khaloi.

The sun is setting on the other side of the lake. A warm orange glow spreads over the area.

“I’m back, Ma,” her youngest daughter, Bijoya, calls out from behind her. Jayanti turns around. 

“Wait, I’ll be there soon. Change out of your uniform, your sister will make you something to eat.”

She walks back from the lake slowly, sits down on a low wooden stool in the courtyard, takes the brass blade, and starts sectioning areca nuts.

“Make me some tea,” she tells Joya.

Joya brings her a bowl of steaming tea and a couple of sweets on a plate.

“Good, now get down to studying before your father comes back. You can’t afford to fail the high school exams again.”

Joya hangs her head and goes back inside the house.

Jayanti regrets being so harsh with her daughter. The money her husband Champak makes as a daily laborer, and her own income from weaving and sewing, appear to have been wasted on Deepak and Joya, both of whom failed the examinations this year.

Tring-tring. Startled, she turns. Her husband enters the courtyard on a ramshackle bicycle. Its rattle is louder than the bell. Two laden bags hang from the handles, one with greens and vegetables, the other with lentils and sugar.

“Hold the bicycle, Jayanti,” her husband says, trying to maintain his balance. She grabs the handles quickly, steadying the bicycle so that he can dismount.  The stench of country liquor assaults her. Her husband is tottering.

Joya and Bijoya run out joyfully on hearing their father’s voice and take the bags off the handles. Jayanti props the bicycle against the wall of the house. “Ooh kota!” she exclaims in disgust. “What a horrible smell. How can you drink so early?”

“Hey shut up, don’t you speak, I drink vodka—I have vodka water. I—I drink vodka,” Champak boasts loudly in broken English, thumping his chest.

“Fine, fine, no need to shout. The neighbors will hear,” Jayanti tries to hush Champak in a low voice.

“You think I care even little? I work oil company—Digboi, Digboi—I speak English,” Champak screeches back.

Whenever her husband comes into a bit of money, he drinks and makes a ruckus at home. The children find the situation unbearable too.

This abuse of alcohol is spreading throughout Ouguri as well as neighboring villages. The young men start drinking early and develop serious ailments by the time they are in their thirties.  

Alcohol and work have crushed Champak. Sunken eyes, hollow cheeks, ribs protruding so prominently they can be counted, the torn shirt that hides nothing. The trousers he bought years ago at the Soingaon haat are so worn out that it’s a mystery how they stay on his waist. He falls on the low stool instead of sitting on it—he’s so drunk he’s swaying like a bamboo reed caught in a gust of wind.

She goes into the kitchen. Joya is putting away the groceries. A liquor bottle rolls out of the pile of vegetables.

Snatching the bottle, she rushes to her husband and says, “Don’t you have any shame? All the swill you drank wasn’t enough, you had to bring more?”

“Stop your bellyaching—I’m drinking with my own money, what business is it of yours? I have brought food for you as well. Pork liver and meat—cook it properly.”

Champak continues grumbling, then vomits, keels over, and promptly passes out. This man is torturing her; the deep lines in her face make her look much older than her forty years. Her body is already wrecked by gastric problems, she can endure no more. She pushes Champak, saying, “Get up, get up, what have you done?”

He doesn’t move. She fetches a pail of water from the well, pours it on his head, and then tugs and pushes his inert frame with Joya’s help and lays him on the bed. She finds it difficult to carry his weight nowadays, a sharp pain shooting from her waist down to her feet, making her feel limp. She puts on the wraparound she bathes in, cleans the puddle of vomit, and then pours two more buckets of water on herself near the well.

Daylight is fading—they need to light the lamps. On the veranda, Joya quickly cleans the soot-darkened glass tops of the kerosene lanterns. Kerosene is expensive, and there is not much to spare—they use one on their study table and the other only when they have to. Jayanti uses an oil lamp in the kitchen.

Jayanti tells her two daughters, “Get to your studies, I don’t want to hear a peep out of either of you. Where is your brother? Is he still fishing?”

They say nothing, as they already know that their brother has gone out. Jayanti goes into her bedroom, puts on an old smoke-stained garment, and enters the kitchen. She turns for a glimpse of their estate from the veranda. Six years ago they had cleared almost five acres of land in the Soingaon Reserve by the Ouguri Lake. The vast area around them turns pitch dark as soon as evening falls. A handful of oil lamps twinkles in the distance, but the croaking of the frogs and the chirruping of the crickets make for an eerie atmosphere.

Jayanti pulls the bundle of dry branches collected from the jungle by the children closer to the makeshift stove and lights a fire. She puts the rice pot on it, chops the vegetables, and prepares the spices and condiments for the meat. The fish Joya caught earlier are already dressed.

There’s a noise outside, as though something has fallen over. She runs out into the courtyard where she sees the bicycle that she had propped up against the wall lying on the ground. The nuts and bolts have come even looser. Jayanti picks it up and carries it inside.

The damaged bicycle on the floor brings back an old image, as sharp as a jagged bolt of lightning. Jayanti used to cycle to school with her girlfriends. One day she fell off on the way and discovered that the rear wheel was all but flat.

Some men were working at the building site for a Digboi Oil Company rig. A tall, neatly turned-out young man stepped forward, picked up her bicycle, and asked, “Are you hurt?”

An embarrassed Jayanti tugged her clothes from her knees all the way down to her feet, and shook her head. The man collected a pump from the digging site and re-inflated the tire. That was how they met. His name was Champak Nath, and he was from Goalpara.

Jayanti smiles. This shabby, scruffy, badly-dressed man used to be so handsome, warm, and caring. She puts the bicycle away and peeks at the sleeping Champak, who’s curled up with his thin hands on his chest. A tender feeling touches her heart.

Jayanti suddenly remembers the rice and rushes to the sputtering fire, feeding it some more branches. Gazing into the flames, which are now roaring again, she is lost in her memories once more. His attractive appearance and charming behavior had lured her adolescent heart, setting off colors as vibrant as the red poinciana.

Jayanti grew quickly after that chance meeting—both physically and emotionally. They continued talking, stealing moments as she went to and from school. One day he passed her a letter confessing his love for her. Her happiness was dashed when her father found out. “I’m warning you,” he said, “I’d better never hear of you talking to him again, or else . . .”

She knew that her family would never approve, that they would never agree to her marrying this stranger from Goalpara in West Assam. But her feelings for Champak only intensified.

On the last day of her matriculation examinations she packed her schoolbag with clothes, sought the blessing of the deities at home, and prayed for her parents’ well-being.

She felt sad about the sister closest to her in age, but there was no time to look back. She got on her bicycle in a hurry, as if she were late for the exam. And when the exam was done, she eloped with Champak.

No one from her family went looking for Jayanti. Perhaps her father had declared her dead.

Champak painted a rainbow on her eighteen-year-old heart. Clutching his hand, she started her new life wearing rose-tinted glasses. They lived in Digboi for about eight months, but she had barely begun the life of her dreams when a shocking incident took place.

Jayanti takes the rice off the fire and puts on the pan for the meat.

That day too she was cooking their dinner. There was already a new life inside her body. Champak rushed in from work late, in a panic, looking for all the world as though someone had whipped him.

“What’s wrong?” Jayanti asked.

“I got caught, Jayanti. Ratan and the rest of them asked me to go with them, but the guards caught us.” Wrapping his arms around her, he began to cry like a child.

Jayanti started shaking him. “What’s the matter, tell me everything.”

“They’ve been stealing company property and selling it. Ratan bought a motorcycle last month, and tonight they asked me to join them, because I wanted a motorcycle too.”

“And then?” Jayanti shouted.

“I made a big mistake.”

A scream tore through her. That was the day the rainbow in her life changed its hues.

All of them went to jail. As expected, Champak lost his job. Even today, Jayanti trembles every time she remembers.

With the doors of the oil company closed to Champak, a pall descended. It was impossible to look into Champak’s eyes. After getting out of prison, he tried desperately to make a livelihood, but failed.

Then one day, when Jayanti was pregnant with their first child, he told her, “You know the old fitter at the oil company, Noren Kolita? He’s inviting us to go live in his village.”

“Doesn’t Noren Kolita live here?”

“He’s going to retire next month, so he’ll be going back to his village, Soingaon.”

“Soingaon? Where is Soingaon?” 

“Soingaon, in the Kamrup district, beyond Guwahati.”

The world Jayanti knew stretched no farther than Dibrugarh. Beyond that she had heard only of Guwahati—very far away, involving an entire day’s traveling. They would have to go even farther. How far was Soingaon exactly? But she had no choice, for there was no other viable option. After his release from prison he had been too ashamed to even leave the house, and she was assailed by a host of worries and anxieties. Champak seemed to have come up with the best option.

“I don’t know, I don’t feel very good about it, but do what you think is right.”

Happy to have obtained her consent, Champak said, “Don’t you worry now, we’ll take a train to Guwahati, you’ll have no difficulty, and then it will be around two hours more by bus.”

Jayanti surrendered to whatever time and fate would lead her to. The vivid poincianas began playing before her eyes.

They had only a few thousand rupees. For these new warriors in the battle of life, managing two meals a day had become a grand dream.

Sitting in front of the fire, Jayanti recollects her life at Soingaon. Champak shook off his torpor and started working as a daily laborer. He even became a sharecropper for Noren Kolita. Deepak was born in the two-room hut that Noren Kolita built for them in his compound. How happy they had been that day. Joya came two years later. But when she had told Champak a few years later she was pregnant again, this time with Bijoya, he flew into a rage.

“What did you say? How will you feed another mouth?”

Gulping in fear, Jayanti said, “I’ll manage, just the way I’m managing now.”

“What are you saying? Here I am working till all hours of the night to pay for everything, do you understand any of this?”

How the man had changed. Imagine so much hostility for a baby yet to be born.

“Joya,” she calls out now.

Joya appears by the kitchen door.

“Bring some more firewood,” Jayanti tells her, “and then see if your father has fallen off the bed.”

Joya goes out to the bundle of twigs they had collected and left to dry in the courtyard, gathers some of the sturdier branches, and passes them to Jayanti before returning to her studies.

Jayanti shoves two of the sticks into the flames, her mind going back to the time spent in Soingaon by the bank of the Kolohi. Those were happier times for her. They made just about enough to cover daily needs, but it was peaceful.

Bijoya was born, and while initially Champak was not pleased, he grew to love and care for the young child. Some days after she was born, Champak said to Jayanti, “I am thinking of buying some farmland in Monjora village, what do you think?”

Jayanti felt like jumping with joy. They would finally have a home in Monjora on the banks of the Kolohi.

But, man proposes and God disposes.

Five or six years later, in 2015, the year Deepak took his matriculation examinations, the rain began to come down. It seemed as though millions of pitchers overhead were emptying themselves everywhere, for three or four days straight, swelling the river banks. The Kolohi was not particularly shallow, and its bed held abundant rocks and silt.

The government quarried sand from riverbeds like the Kolohi’s, and Champak worked on these projects under the lessees, contractors, and supervisors. The intensity of the rain that particular year made all the villagers who lived by the Kolohi fearful.

“This will be it, the villages are going to drown, time to pack up whatever you can and get ready to leave if you want to save your life.”

Champak and Jayanti prepared too, packing their things and holding their children close. That night was dark, the rain unceasing. As parts of their dear village broke off and fell into the increasingly dangerous river, Jayanti felt her very flesh being torn off her body. The house they had built with their own hands, the garden they had filled with plants and trees were consumed by the raging river in front of their very eyes. Within moments they became destitute. Nature’s relentless fury left them speechless.

The life they had made for themselves by the Kolohi was eroded with the same ease as the banks of the river. The cries and sighs of those who had lost their homes covered the embankment like a thick blanket. The Kolohi was cruel—just like she rested to provide fertile ground for agriculture, she also flooded her banks every year, turning the lives of many people upside down.

They had lost everything. Where would they go, what would they do? They stayed in government relief camps for some days, but it wasn’t possible to live there forever. 

When they left the relief camp, Champak and Jayanti joined the ranks of the people who moved into the nearby reserve forest. Joining hands with neighbors from the Bodo and Rabha tribes, they began clearing the land together. They were aware that building a village here was illegal, but in this battle the need for survival was a stronger weapon than law and order.

The displaced people cleared enough land to build two villages. The enormous lake in the middle of the reserved area was called Ouguri in the east and Solsoli in the west. Jayanti and her family worked hard to clear their portion of the land, planted bamboo and banana trees, and harvested rice and vegetables. The lake was filled with fish; many made a living by selling them at the Soigaon market.

The colors of Jayanti’s life changed again. Without a proper job, slaving to ensure two meals a day for his family, Champak started drinking heavily. He drank country liquors like sulai and laupani, made by the nearby Bodos, and became loud and combative. Jayanti worried that he would get drunk and fall into a ditch.

It was a miracle that he had made it home today with those bags hanging on both sides of his bicycle, which he could barely control when he was sober.

“Isn’t dinner ready yet? Why is it taking such a long time?” Champak calls out from the bed. Jayanti shakes herself out of her reverie and blows on the flames to make them burn more strongly. The rice is done, the pork is simmering nicely.

“Joya,” she calls.

It is usually Joya’s responsibility to clean the floor where they eat and lay out the plates and bowls as required. Jayanti suddenly remembers she has not heard her son in some time. Is he not home even at this late hour? Where is he, what is he doing? 

She looks at Joya who is leaning against the door. “Isn’t your brother home yet?” she asks.

“No,” answers Joya.

The veins in her forehead pulse. Where is he so late at night? “Take the plates out, do you not hear your father shouting?”

Rising to her feet, she walks briskly toward the gate. There is deep darkness all around, but still she peers into it in all directions—and sees her son approaching, dimly lit up by a swarm of fireflies. He seems to be in a daze. Spotting her, he asks, “What are you doing here at this hour of night?”

Kota mora tu!” Jayanti says in exasperation. “I came out looking for you. Where were you out so late?”

She leans forward to smell his breath—has he started drinking as well? But she doesn’t smell alcohol and lets out a sigh of relief.

Jayanti feels better now. A gust of wind makes her shiver.

“Come in now,” she says in a softer tone.

They sit on the floor in a circle for dinner by the light of the oil lamp. Jayanti starts serving everyone, looking at each of them in turn. Champak takes a few small bites of his food. Jayanti has not sat down to her meal yet, in case anyone wants a second helping. His mouth full of food, her son asks his father, “Have you heard, Deuta?”

“Heard what?” Champak sneers.

A bat flies past outside, flapping its wings.

“I heard at Tilleshwar Dai’s house they’re going to evict us,” her son says.

“Evict?” Champak asks with grudging curiosity.

“Evict?” Jayanti repeats, loudly.

“The government will clear out the villages in the reserve,” her son explains.

“Why? Where will we go? Why will they make us leave?”

“Why should they let us stay? This land is owned by the government. We built villages illegally,” Deepak says somberly.

Champak sobers up. “We’ll see who has the balls to throw us out. This is Champak Nath you’re talking to.” He rises to his feet with bravado.

Deepak says, his eyes on his plate, “Tilleshwar Dai said he will file an appeal with the local forest officer for rehabilitation consideration. Let’s see.”

Joya’s and Bijoya’s eyes widen—they forget to eat. Jayanti, who has just sat down to eat her own food, is in complete disbelief.

“You’d better eat, Ma, the lamp is about to go out,” says Joya. She begins clearing the empty plates.

Jayanti feels dizzy. Every corner of the room seems to be shaking. She glances at the smoking oil lamp, its flickering, blackened tip. It is about to go out. She stares at the tip, her senses overwhelmed by a picture-perfect image of an azure sky over a blue, brimming Ouguri lake, lush green rice saplings swaying merrily in the wind on its shore, an image that disintegrates like the wisps of smoke running into her eyes, making them water. Her throat is dry, and she feels like she is floating. She had begun to dream new dreams, would they die now?

Her fantasy of a rejuvenated life with her family in Ouguri village is turning out to be a mirage. Just as a huge tree uprooted by a powerful storm crashes slowly to the ground, Jayanti falls off her low stool in slow motion.

“Are you all right, Ma?” Joya and Bijoya rush to her and try to lift her off the floor. Deepak runs up as well.

Her vision fills with a series of images rushing past—all the people she has met in her life. Her half-remembered parents, the dream she had left her parents to follow, the house by the Kolohi, her home in Ouguri, all the dreams she has chased and never been able to catch.

When will her trials end?

Is this the end, just like that? What happened to her roots?

Clutching her children’s hands, she tries to raise herself from the floor.


“Shipa”
© Madhurima Barua. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2023 by Syeda Shaheen Jeenat Suhailey. 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

The village is named Ouguri, after the lake. Jayanti gazes at the huge lake from the shore. Someone is getting into a canoe to go fishing. The headman’s six-fingered nephew perhaps, a lucky fellow, famous for how his net always snares the heaviest haul. Some say he waits by the lake, hunched in the shadows, accompanied by a fiendish water demon.

Turning her head, Jayanti sees her son, Deepak, sitting patiently with two fishing rods, waiting for the floaters to move. She is irritated. After passing his higher secondary examination he had attended Soingaon College for a couple of years. But after flunking out, he now wastes his time fishing or wandering around the village. As she walks along the shore, she also sees her eldest daughter, Joya, moving the day’s catch from the bamboo traps, the jakoi into the khaloi.

The sun is setting on the other side of the lake. A warm orange glow spreads over the area.

“I’m back, Ma,” her youngest daughter, Bijoya, calls out from behind her. Jayanti turns around. 

“Wait, I’ll be there soon. Change out of your uniform, your sister will make you something to eat.”

She walks back from the lake slowly, sits down on a low wooden stool in the courtyard, takes the brass blade, and starts sectioning areca nuts.

“Make me some tea,” she tells Joya.

Joya brings her a bowl of steaming tea and a couple of sweets on a plate.

“Good, now get down to studying before your father comes back. You can’t afford to fail the high school exams again.”

Joya hangs her head and goes back inside the house.

Jayanti regrets being so harsh with her daughter. The money her husband Champak makes as a daily laborer, and her own income from weaving and sewing, appear to have been wasted on Deepak and Joya, both of whom failed the examinations this year.

Tring-tring. Startled, she turns. Her husband enters the courtyard on a ramshackle bicycle. Its rattle is louder than the bell. Two laden bags hang from the handles, one with greens and vegetables, the other with lentils and sugar.

“Hold the bicycle, Jayanti,” her husband says, trying to maintain his balance. She grabs the handles quickly, steadying the bicycle so that he can dismount.  The stench of country liquor assaults her. Her husband is tottering.

Joya and Bijoya run out joyfully on hearing their father’s voice and take the bags off the handles. Jayanti props the bicycle against the wall of the house. “Ooh kota!” she exclaims in disgust. “What a horrible smell. How can you drink so early?”

“Hey shut up, don’t you speak, I drink vodka—I have vodka water. I—I drink vodka,” Champak boasts loudly in broken English, thumping his chest.

“Fine, fine, no need to shout. The neighbors will hear,” Jayanti tries to hush Champak in a low voice.

“You think I care even little? I work oil company—Digboi, Digboi—I speak English,” Champak screeches back.

Whenever her husband comes into a bit of money, he drinks and makes a ruckus at home. The children find the situation unbearable too.

This abuse of alcohol is spreading throughout Ouguri as well as neighboring villages. The young men start drinking early and develop serious ailments by the time they are in their thirties.  

Alcohol and work have crushed Champak. Sunken eyes, hollow cheeks, ribs protruding so prominently they can be counted, the torn shirt that hides nothing. The trousers he bought years ago at the Soingaon haat are so worn out that it’s a mystery how they stay on his waist. He falls on the low stool instead of sitting on it—he’s so drunk he’s swaying like a bamboo reed caught in a gust of wind.

She goes into the kitchen. Joya is putting away the groceries. A liquor bottle rolls out of the pile of vegetables.

Snatching the bottle, she rushes to her husband and says, “Don’t you have any shame? All the swill you drank wasn’t enough, you had to bring more?”

“Stop your bellyaching—I’m drinking with my own money, what business is it of yours? I have brought food for you as well. Pork liver and meat—cook it properly.”

Champak continues grumbling, then vomits, keels over, and promptly passes out. This man is torturing her; the deep lines in her face make her look much older than her forty years. Her body is already wrecked by gastric problems, she can endure no more. She pushes Champak, saying, “Get up, get up, what have you done?”

He doesn’t move. She fetches a pail of water from the well, pours it on his head, and then tugs and pushes his inert frame with Joya’s help and lays him on the bed. She finds it difficult to carry his weight nowadays, a sharp pain shooting from her waist down to her feet, making her feel limp. She puts on the wraparound she bathes in, cleans the puddle of vomit, and then pours two more buckets of water on herself near the well.

Daylight is fading—they need to light the lamps. On the veranda, Joya quickly cleans the soot-darkened glass tops of the kerosene lanterns. Kerosene is expensive, and there is not much to spare—they use one on their study table and the other only when they have to. Jayanti uses an oil lamp in the kitchen.

Jayanti tells her two daughters, “Get to your studies, I don’t want to hear a peep out of either of you. Where is your brother? Is he still fishing?”

They say nothing, as they already know that their brother has gone out. Jayanti goes into her bedroom, puts on an old smoke-stained garment, and enters the kitchen. She turns for a glimpse of their estate from the veranda. Six years ago they had cleared almost five acres of land in the Soingaon Reserve by the Ouguri Lake. The vast area around them turns pitch dark as soon as evening falls. A handful of oil lamps twinkles in the distance, but the croaking of the frogs and the chirruping of the crickets make for an eerie atmosphere.

Jayanti pulls the bundle of dry branches collected from the jungle by the children closer to the makeshift stove and lights a fire. She puts the rice pot on it, chops the vegetables, and prepares the spices and condiments for the meat. The fish Joya caught earlier are already dressed.

There’s a noise outside, as though something has fallen over. She runs out into the courtyard where she sees the bicycle that she had propped up against the wall lying on the ground. The nuts and bolts have come even looser. Jayanti picks it up and carries it inside.

The damaged bicycle on the floor brings back an old image, as sharp as a jagged bolt of lightning. Jayanti used to cycle to school with her girlfriends. One day she fell off on the way and discovered that the rear wheel was all but flat.

Some men were working at the building site for a Digboi Oil Company rig. A tall, neatly turned-out young man stepped forward, picked up her bicycle, and asked, “Are you hurt?”

An embarrassed Jayanti tugged her clothes from her knees all the way down to her feet, and shook her head. The man collected a pump from the digging site and re-inflated the tire. That was how they met. His name was Champak Nath, and he was from Goalpara.

Jayanti smiles. This shabby, scruffy, badly-dressed man used to be so handsome, warm, and caring. She puts the bicycle away and peeks at the sleeping Champak, who’s curled up with his thin hands on his chest. A tender feeling touches her heart.

Jayanti suddenly remembers the rice and rushes to the sputtering fire, feeding it some more branches. Gazing into the flames, which are now roaring again, she is lost in her memories once more. His attractive appearance and charming behavior had lured her adolescent heart, setting off colors as vibrant as the red poinciana.

Jayanti grew quickly after that chance meeting—both physically and emotionally. They continued talking, stealing moments as she went to and from school. One day he passed her a letter confessing his love for her. Her happiness was dashed when her father found out. “I’m warning you,” he said, “I’d better never hear of you talking to him again, or else . . .”

She knew that her family would never approve, that they would never agree to her marrying this stranger from Goalpara in West Assam. But her feelings for Champak only intensified.

On the last day of her matriculation examinations she packed her schoolbag with clothes, sought the blessing of the deities at home, and prayed for her parents’ well-being.

She felt sad about the sister closest to her in age, but there was no time to look back. She got on her bicycle in a hurry, as if she were late for the exam. And when the exam was done, she eloped with Champak.

No one from her family went looking for Jayanti. Perhaps her father had declared her dead.

Champak painted a rainbow on her eighteen-year-old heart. Clutching his hand, she started her new life wearing rose-tinted glasses. They lived in Digboi for about eight months, but she had barely begun the life of her dreams when a shocking incident took place.

Jayanti takes the rice off the fire and puts on the pan for the meat.

That day too she was cooking their dinner. There was already a new life inside her body. Champak rushed in from work late, in a panic, looking for all the world as though someone had whipped him.

“What’s wrong?” Jayanti asked.

“I got caught, Jayanti. Ratan and the rest of them asked me to go with them, but the guards caught us.” Wrapping his arms around her, he began to cry like a child.

Jayanti started shaking him. “What’s the matter, tell me everything.”

“They’ve been stealing company property and selling it. Ratan bought a motorcycle last month, and tonight they asked me to join them, because I wanted a motorcycle too.”

“And then?” Jayanti shouted.

“I made a big mistake.”

A scream tore through her. That was the day the rainbow in her life changed its hues.

All of them went to jail. As expected, Champak lost his job. Even today, Jayanti trembles every time she remembers.

With the doors of the oil company closed to Champak, a pall descended. It was impossible to look into Champak’s eyes. After getting out of prison, he tried desperately to make a livelihood, but failed.

Then one day, when Jayanti was pregnant with their first child, he told her, “You know the old fitter at the oil company, Noren Kolita? He’s inviting us to go live in his village.”

“Doesn’t Noren Kolita live here?”

“He’s going to retire next month, so he’ll be going back to his village, Soingaon.”

“Soingaon? Where is Soingaon?” 

“Soingaon, in the Kamrup district, beyond Guwahati.”

The world Jayanti knew stretched no farther than Dibrugarh. Beyond that she had heard only of Guwahati—very far away, involving an entire day’s traveling. They would have to go even farther. How far was Soingaon exactly? But she had no choice, for there was no other viable option. After his release from prison he had been too ashamed to even leave the house, and she was assailed by a host of worries and anxieties. Champak seemed to have come up with the best option.

“I don’t know, I don’t feel very good about it, but do what you think is right.”

Happy to have obtained her consent, Champak said, “Don’t you worry now, we’ll take a train to Guwahati, you’ll have no difficulty, and then it will be around two hours more by bus.”

Jayanti surrendered to whatever time and fate would lead her to. The vivid poincianas began playing before her eyes.

They had only a few thousand rupees. For these new warriors in the battle of life, managing two meals a day had become a grand dream.

Sitting in front of the fire, Jayanti recollects her life at Soingaon. Champak shook off his torpor and started working as a daily laborer. He even became a sharecropper for Noren Kolita. Deepak was born in the two-room hut that Noren Kolita built for them in his compound. How happy they had been that day. Joya came two years later. But when she had told Champak a few years later she was pregnant again, this time with Bijoya, he flew into a rage.

“What did you say? How will you feed another mouth?”

Gulping in fear, Jayanti said, “I’ll manage, just the way I’m managing now.”

“What are you saying? Here I am working till all hours of the night to pay for everything, do you understand any of this?”

How the man had changed. Imagine so much hostility for a baby yet to be born.

“Joya,” she calls out now.

Joya appears by the kitchen door.

“Bring some more firewood,” Jayanti tells her, “and then see if your father has fallen off the bed.”

Joya goes out to the bundle of twigs they had collected and left to dry in the courtyard, gathers some of the sturdier branches, and passes them to Jayanti before returning to her studies.

Jayanti shoves two of the sticks into the flames, her mind going back to the time spent in Soingaon by the bank of the Kolohi. Those were happier times for her. They made just about enough to cover daily needs, but it was peaceful.

Bijoya was born, and while initially Champak was not pleased, he grew to love and care for the young child. Some days after she was born, Champak said to Jayanti, “I am thinking of buying some farmland in Monjora village, what do you think?”

Jayanti felt like jumping with joy. They would finally have a home in Monjora on the banks of the Kolohi.

But, man proposes and God disposes.

Five or six years later, in 2015, the year Deepak took his matriculation examinations, the rain began to come down. It seemed as though millions of pitchers overhead were emptying themselves everywhere, for three or four days straight, swelling the river banks. The Kolohi was not particularly shallow, and its bed held abundant rocks and silt.

The government quarried sand from riverbeds like the Kolohi’s, and Champak worked on these projects under the lessees, contractors, and supervisors. The intensity of the rain that particular year made all the villagers who lived by the Kolohi fearful.

“This will be it, the villages are going to drown, time to pack up whatever you can and get ready to leave if you want to save your life.”

Champak and Jayanti prepared too, packing their things and holding their children close. That night was dark, the rain unceasing. As parts of their dear village broke off and fell into the increasingly dangerous river, Jayanti felt her very flesh being torn off her body. The house they had built with their own hands, the garden they had filled with plants and trees were consumed by the raging river in front of their very eyes. Within moments they became destitute. Nature’s relentless fury left them speechless.

The life they had made for themselves by the Kolohi was eroded with the same ease as the banks of the river. The cries and sighs of those who had lost their homes covered the embankment like a thick blanket. The Kolohi was cruel—just like she rested to provide fertile ground for agriculture, she also flooded her banks every year, turning the lives of many people upside down.

They had lost everything. Where would they go, what would they do? They stayed in government relief camps for some days, but it wasn’t possible to live there forever. 

When they left the relief camp, Champak and Jayanti joined the ranks of the people who moved into the nearby reserve forest. Joining hands with neighbors from the Bodo and Rabha tribes, they began clearing the land together. They were aware that building a village here was illegal, but in this battle the need for survival was a stronger weapon than law and order.

The displaced people cleared enough land to build two villages. The enormous lake in the middle of the reserved area was called Ouguri in the east and Solsoli in the west. Jayanti and her family worked hard to clear their portion of the land, planted bamboo and banana trees, and harvested rice and vegetables. The lake was filled with fish; many made a living by selling them at the Soigaon market.

The colors of Jayanti’s life changed again. Without a proper job, slaving to ensure two meals a day for his family, Champak started drinking heavily. He drank country liquors like sulai and laupani, made by the nearby Bodos, and became loud and combative. Jayanti worried that he would get drunk and fall into a ditch.

It was a miracle that he had made it home today with those bags hanging on both sides of his bicycle, which he could barely control when he was sober.

“Isn’t dinner ready yet? Why is it taking such a long time?” Champak calls out from the bed. Jayanti shakes herself out of her reverie and blows on the flames to make them burn more strongly. The rice is done, the pork is simmering nicely.

“Joya,” she calls.

It is usually Joya’s responsibility to clean the floor where they eat and lay out the plates and bowls as required. Jayanti suddenly remembers she has not heard her son in some time. Is he not home even at this late hour? Where is he, what is he doing? 

She looks at Joya who is leaning against the door. “Isn’t your brother home yet?” she asks.

“No,” answers Joya.

The veins in her forehead pulse. Where is he so late at night? “Take the plates out, do you not hear your father shouting?”

Rising to her feet, she walks briskly toward the gate. There is deep darkness all around, but still she peers into it in all directions—and sees her son approaching, dimly lit up by a swarm of fireflies. He seems to be in a daze. Spotting her, he asks, “What are you doing here at this hour of night?”

Kota mora tu!” Jayanti says in exasperation. “I came out looking for you. Where were you out so late?”

She leans forward to smell his breath—has he started drinking as well? But she doesn’t smell alcohol and lets out a sigh of relief.

Jayanti feels better now. A gust of wind makes her shiver.

“Come in now,” she says in a softer tone.

They sit on the floor in a circle for dinner by the light of the oil lamp. Jayanti starts serving everyone, looking at each of them in turn. Champak takes a few small bites of his food. Jayanti has not sat down to her meal yet, in case anyone wants a second helping. His mouth full of food, her son asks his father, “Have you heard, Deuta?”

“Heard what?” Champak sneers.

A bat flies past outside, flapping its wings.

“I heard at Tilleshwar Dai’s house they’re going to evict us,” her son says.

“Evict?” Champak asks with grudging curiosity.

“Evict?” Jayanti repeats, loudly.

“The government will clear out the villages in the reserve,” her son explains.

“Why? Where will we go? Why will they make us leave?”

“Why should they let us stay? This land is owned by the government. We built villages illegally,” Deepak says somberly.

Champak sobers up. “We’ll see who has the balls to throw us out. This is Champak Nath you’re talking to.” He rises to his feet with bravado.

Deepak says, his eyes on his plate, “Tilleshwar Dai said he will file an appeal with the local forest officer for rehabilitation consideration. Let’s see.”

Joya’s and Bijoya’s eyes widen—they forget to eat. Jayanti, who has just sat down to eat her own food, is in complete disbelief.

“You’d better eat, Ma, the lamp is about to go out,” says Joya. She begins clearing the empty plates.

Jayanti feels dizzy. Every corner of the room seems to be shaking. She glances at the smoking oil lamp, its flickering, blackened tip. It is about to go out. She stares at the tip, her senses overwhelmed by a picture-perfect image of an azure sky over a blue, brimming Ouguri lake, lush green rice saplings swaying merrily in the wind on its shore, an image that disintegrates like the wisps of smoke running into her eyes, making them water. Her throat is dry, and she feels like she is floating. She had begun to dream new dreams, would they die now?

Her fantasy of a rejuvenated life with her family in Ouguri village is turning out to be a mirage. Just as a huge tree uprooted by a powerful storm crashes slowly to the ground, Jayanti falls off her low stool in slow motion.

“Are you all right, Ma?” Joya and Bijoya rush to her and try to lift her off the floor. Deepak runs up as well.

Her vision fills with a series of images rushing past—all the people she has met in her life. Her half-remembered parents, the dream she had left her parents to follow, the house by the Kolohi, her home in Ouguri, all the dreams she has chased and never been able to catch.

When will her trials end?

Is this the end, just like that? What happened to her roots?

Clutching her children’s hands, she tries to raise herself from the floor.


“Shipa”
© Madhurima Barua. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2023 by Syeda Shaheen Jeenat Suhailey. 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.

শিপা

গাওঁ খনৰ নাম ঔগুৰি—বিলখনৰ নামেৰে–বিশাল বিল খনৰ পাৰত ৰৈ জয়ন্তীয়ে দূৰলৈ চালে। কোনোবা এটাই টুলুঙা নাও এখনত উঠি মাছ মাৰিবলৈ গৈছে। গাওঁবুÿঢ়াৰ ছয় আঙুলীয়া ভতিজাকটো হ’ব পায়, সি এটা পয়াঁ, গাওঁখনৰ ভিতৰতে নাম আছে যে তাৰ জালত আটাইতকৈ বেছি মাছ উঠে। কিছুমানে কয় সি বাকৰ লগত একেলগে মাছৰ বাবে বিলৰ পাৰত জুপুকা মাৰি  বহি থাকে। তাই মুখখন ঘূৰাই দেখিলে পুতেক দীপকে বৰশী দুটা পাতি পুঙা দুটালৈ একান্তমনে চাই বহি আছে। জয়ন্তীৰ খং উঠে, সি হায়াৰ চেকেণ্ডাৰী পাছ কৰি ছয়গাৱঁৰ কলেজলৈ দুবছৰমান অহাযোৱা কৰিছিল, যোৱাবছৰ পাছ কৰিব নোৱাৰিলে,  এতিয়া ঘৰতে থাকি মাছ ধৰে বা গাঁৱৰ ভিতৰত ধিতিঙালী কৰি  ঘুৰি ফুৰে। অলপ আতঁৰত দেখিলে ডাঙৰ জীয়েক জয়াই জাকৈত উঠা মাছ কেইটামান খালৈত ভৰাই বিলৰ পানীৰ পৰা উঠি আহিছে।

বিল খনৰ সিটো পাৰলৈ বেলিটো লাহে লাহে হালিছে। কোমল কমলা ৰং এটা চাৰিওফালে সিচঁৰিত হৈ পৰিছে।

:মা, অ’ মা—মই আহিলো।

পাছফালৰ পৰা সৰুজনী জীয়েক বিজয়াই ৰিঙিয়াই মাতিলে। জয়ন্তীয়ে ঘুৰি চালে। বিজয়া স্কুলৰ পৰা আহিল।

: আহিছো ৰ, তই স্কুলৰ চোলাকাপোৰ  খোলচোন, বায়েৰে ভাত কেইটা উলিয়াই দিব।

লাহে  লাহে তাই বিলৰ পাৰৰ পৰা উভতি আহি চোতালতে  পীৰা এখন পাৰি তামোলৰ বটাটো লৈ তামোল কাটিবলৈ বহি ডাঙৰ জীয়েক জয়াক ক’লে–

: চাহ অকণমান কৰচোন।

জয়াই চাহ এবাতি আনি সন্মুখত ৰাখিলে, লগতে থাল এখনত লাৰু কেইটামান।

চাহৰ বাতিটো হাতত লৈ জয়াক ক’লে–

ঃঠিক আছে , বাপেৰ অহাৰ আগতে কিতাপ মেলি ল’গৈ। এইবাৰ আকৌ মেট্ৰিক ফেইল কৰিলে নহ’ব।

জয়াই তলমূৰ কৰি ভিতৰলৈ সোমাই গ’ল।

জীয়েকক টানকৈ কথাষাৰ কৈ তাইৰ  মনটো বেয়া লাগিল। বাপেক চম্পকে মিস্ত্ৰীৰ লগত হাজিৰা কৰি, তাইয়ো তাঁত সূত বৈ দুপইচা অৰ্জা টকা খৰচ কৰি পঢ়ুৱাৰ পাছতো দীপক আৰু জয়া দুয়োটাই এইবাৰ ফেল কৰিলে।

হঠাতে টিলিলিং টিলি¿লং কৈ টিলিঙাটো বজাই চাইকেল এখন চোতাললৈ সোমাই আহিল। চাইকেলৰ টিলিঙাতকৈ জৰজৰীয়া হোৱা চাইকেল খন বেছি বাজিছে।

তাইৰ ভাৱনাত যতি পৰিল।

চক খোৱাৰ দৰে সম্বিত ঘূৰাই পাই তাই শব্দ হোৱাৰ ফালে চালে—চাইকেলৰ  হেণ্ডেলত দুয়োফালে দুটা মোনাত শাক পাচলি, আনটোত দাইল, চেনীৰ ৰচদ লৈ তাইৰ গৃহস্থ সোমাই অহিছে–দেখি তাইৰ মনটো ভাল লাগিল।

ঃ:ধৰ, ধৰ– জয়ন্তী ধৰ , বুলি কওঁতেই সি চাইকেলৰ পৰা বাগৰিয়েই গৈছিল। তাই থাপমাৰি হেণ্ডেল ডালত ধৰি ৰখাই দিয়াত সি লাহেকৈ কাতি হৈ নামি দিলে; চাইকেল খন উঠাবলৈ লোৱা জয়ন্তীৰ নাকত লাওপানীৰ ভেকেটা গোন্ধটোৱে খুন্দা মাৰিলে।

মানুহটো একেবাৰে ঢলং-পলং।

দেউতাকৰ মাত শুনি দুয়োজনী জীয়েক জয়া বিজয়াই  স্ফুৰ্ত্তিত দৌৰি আহি চাইকেলত ওলমি থকা মোনাকেইটা ধৰি নমালে। জয়ন্তীয়ে চাইকেলখন দুয়োহাতেৰে ধৰি একতীয়াকৈ লৈ ঘৰৰ বেৰত আওঁজাই দিলে।

:ওঁহ, কটা- ইমান ভেকেটা ভেকেট গোন্ধ– এই সন্ধিয়াতে ক’ত ধৰি আহিল? 

:ঐ চুপ থাক, কথা নকবি, আই ড্ৰিংক ভদকা– মই ভদকা পানী পি আহিছো; আই- আই ড্ৰিংক ভদকা।

চম্পকে ফিটাহি মাৰি নিজৰ বুকুত ঢকিয়াই চিঞৰি উঠিল।

: হ’ব, হ’ব, ইমান চিঞৰিব নালাগে- সৌখন চুবুৰীলৈকে সকলোৱে শুনিব।

জয়ন্তীয়ে চেপা মাতেৰে চম্পকক চিঞৰাৰ পৰা নিৰস্ত কৰিব খুজিলে।

: মই থোৰেই কেয়াৰ কৰো- আই ৱৰ্ক অইল কোম্পানী- ডিগবৈ ডিগবৈ- আই স্পিক ইংলিচ। সি গলাৰ শিৰ ফুলাই  চিঞৰি উঠিল।

চম্পকে হাজিৰা কৰি কৰবাত যি কেইটামান টকা পায়, তাৰে পানীটুপি খাই আহি এনেদৰে চিঞৰ বাখৰ কৰে,জয়ন্তীক এই কথাটেৱে সাংঘাটিক ভাবে যাতনা দিয়ে। তাইৰ লগতে পুতেক-জীয়েকহঁতৰো জীৱনটো অসহ্যকৰ কৰি তোলে।

ঔগুৰিৰ লগতে ওচৰৰ গাঁওবোৰত চুলাই আৰু লাওপানীয়ে চানি ধৰিছে । কুমলীয়া বয়সৰে পৰা ল’ৰাবোৰে পানী টুপিত ধৰে, তাৰপিছত ত্ৰিশৰ ডেওনা পাৰ হওঁ -নহওঁতেই পেটৰ ভিতৰৰ যন্ত্ৰ পাতিবোৰত ঘূণে ধৰে, আদবয়সতে বেমাৰে চেপেটা কৰি পেলায়।

জয়ন্তীয়ে ভাবিলে কিয় সি মদ খাবলৈ ল’লে, হয়তো দৰিদ্ৰতাৰ দুখত? চাকৰি যোৱাৰ দুখত?

তাই চম্পকলৈ চালে, দেখিলে  মদ আৰু শাৰিৰীক কষ্টই তাক একেবাৰে চেপি খুন্দি আনিছে।চকু কোটৰত, গাল ভগা,গাত থকা কামিহাড় কেইডাল গণিব পাৰি, ফটা চোলাটোৱে সেইকেইডাল ঢাকিব পৰা নাই। কেবা বছৰৰ আগতে ছয়গাৱঁৰ হাটত কিনা পেন্টটো উৱঁলি গৈ ঢিলা হৈ  কোনোমতেহে  ককাঁলৰ পৰা ওলমি আছে। দেখি তাইৰ মনটো কুমলি গ’ল।চোতালত থকা পীৰাখনৰ ওপৰতে সি বহি পৰিল। ভালকৈ বহিবই পৰা নাই- নিচাৰ কোবত বতাহত বাঁহ হলা দি ইফালে সিফালে হালিছে।

তাই মানুহটোক তাতে এৰি পাকঘৰলৈ ভুমুকি মাৰিলে, দেখিলে মোনাৰ বয়বস্তুুবোৰ ডাঙৰ জীয়েক জয়াই সামৰি সুতৰি থৈছে। তেনেতে, শাকপাচলিৰ মাজৰ পৰা চুলাই মদৰ সৰু  বটল এটা ওলাই পৰিল। দেখি তাইৰ খঙে চুলিৰ আগ পালেগৈ।

জয়াৰ হাতৰ পৰা বটলটো লৈ তাই চোঁ মাতি গিৰিয়েকৰ ওচৰগৈ ক’বলৈ ধৰিলে-

ঃ লাজ নাই আপোনাৰ– এই গেলাখন খাই আহিছে, আকৌ এটা লৈ আহিছে।

ঃআহ, কেপ কেপাই নাথাকিবি– মোৰ পইচাৰে খাইছো তোৰ কি হ’ল? তোলৈ খাবলৈ আনিছো নহয়। গাহৰিৰ কলিজাৰ লগতে মঙহ আনিছো– ভালকৈ ৰান্ধিবি।

কৈ কৈ বহি থকা ঠাইতে চম্পকে  বমি কৰি একতীয়া হৈ শুই পৰিলে,  দেখি তাইৰ মূৰটো ভমককৈ উতলি উঠিল। এই মানুহটোৱে জ্বলাই মাৰিছে, চল্লিশতে তাইৰ মুখত বয়সৰ চাপ পৰিছে , পিত্ত বেমাৰে লগ লৈছে।তাইৰ সহ্যৰ সীমা পাৰ হৈ গ’ল। সাউতকৈ ওচৰলৈ আহি গটা কেইটামান দি তাৰ গাত ধৰি জোকাৰি উঠাবলৈ চেস্টা কৰি ক’বলৈ ধৰিলে—

ঃ  উঠক, উঠক…. কি কৰিলে এইবোৰ?

সি লৰ চৰ নকৰিলে। কি আৰু কৰিব তাই, কুঁৱাৰ পৰা পানী তুলি মুখখন ধুৱাঁই জয়াৰ লগত চম্পকক ধৰি আনি চালপিৰাখনত শুৱাই দিলে। আজিকালি মানুহ টোক এনে দৰে টনা টনি কৰিবলৈ তাইৰ অসুবিধা হয়, ককাঁলৰ পৰা ভৰিলৈ বিষ এটাই তাইক কোঙা কৰি আনিছে।তাৰপিছত তিয়নি পিন্ধি সেই ওকটা গোন্ধোৱা বমিখিনি পৰিস্কাৰ কৰি কুঁৱাৰ পাৰত দুবাল্টিমান পানী তাই গাত ঢালি ল’লে।

সন্ধিয়া গহীন হৈ আহিছে,– চাকি বাতি লগাবৰ হ’ল– পিৰালীতে বহি জয়াই কেৰাচিন তেলৰ ধেঁাৱাই লেতেৰা কৰা চিমনি কেইটা ধুবলৈ লৈছে।কেৰাচিন তেলৰ ভীষণ দাম, তাতে নাটনি– জয়াহঁতে পঢ়াৰ মেজত এটা জ্বলায় আনটো þ বাহিৰৰ কোঠাটোত থয়–অলপ সময়ৰ পাছত নুমুৱাই দিয়ে। জয়ন্তীয়ে পাকঘৰত টিপ চাকি এটাৰে কাম চলায়।

তাই জয়াহঁতক ক’লে-

ঃ মনে মনে কিতাপ ল’। ককায়েৰ ক’ত গ’ল? এতিয়াও মাছতে লাগি আছে নেকি?

সিহঁত দুজনীযে একো নক’লে, কাৰণ সিহঁতে জানে ইতিমধ্যে ককায়েক দীপক চ’কলৈ ওলাই হৈছে। জীয়েকহঁতক পঢ়ামেজত বহুৱাই তাই সাউতকৈ শোৱনি কোঠাত সোমাই পিন্ধি থকা চাদৰ খন সলাই , পুৰণি ধোঁৱা লাগি ক’লা হোৱা চাদৰ এখন পিন্ধি   পিৰালীৰ পৰা ঘূৰি তাই দূৰলৈ চাই পঠিয়ালে, ছয় বছৰ মানৰ আগতে ছয়গাঁৱৰ  ৰিজাৰ্ভৰ ঔগুৰি বিলৰ পাৰৰ এই মাটি সিহঁতে চৈধ্য বিঘামান ভাঙি লৈছিল।  সন্ধিয়াৰ লগে লগে ঘৰটোৰ চাৰিওফালৰ বিশাল ঠাইটুকুৰা  ঘোপমৰা অন্ধকাৰ হৈ পৰিলে।বহুদূৰৈত ধিমিক-ধামাক চাকিৰ পোহৰ দেখিবলৈ পোৱা গৈছিল যদিও ভেঁকুলীৰ টোৰটোৰণি আৰু জিলিৰ মাতত ঠাই টুকুৰা বেছি গহীন হৈ পৰিলে।

এই বাৰ তাই পাকঘৰত সোমাব।

দীপক-জয়াহঁতে হাবিৰ পৰা লুৰি অনা শুকান খৰিৰ বোজাটো চৌকাটোৰ ওচৰলৈ আনি জয়ন্তীয়ে  জুইকুৰা দপদপাই জ্বলাই দি ভাতৰ চৰুটো পাতি দিলে। শাকপাচলি খিনি কুটিবাচি লৈ মাংসৰ বাবেও যা যোগাৰ কৰি ল’লে। জাকৈত পোৱা মাছ কেইটা জয়াই বাছি থৈ গৈছে।

মাটিত লাংখাই পৰি ৰোৱা চাইকেল খনে বিজুলী চমকাইদি তাইৰ মনলৈ আনি দিলে পাহৰি যোৱা সময়ৰ এখন  ছবি। সেই সময়ৰ, যিসময়ত পোন্ধৰ -ষোল বছৰীয়া জয়ন্তীয়ে লগৰ কেইজনীমানৰ স’তে চাইকেল চলাই স্কুললৈ অহা যোৱা কৰিছিল। এদিন তাই স্কুললৈ যোৱাৰ বাটৰ মাজতে চাইকেলৰ পৰা মাটিত বাগৰি পৰিল,  জয়ন্তীয়ে দেখিলে তাইৰ পাছ চকাটোৰ হাৱা একেবাৰে নাই।

সিহঁতৰ স্কুললৈ অহাযোৱা কৰাৰ বাটত ডিগবৈ অইল কোম্পানীয়ে মাটিৰ তলৰ তেল বিচাৰি  ৰিগ খান্দিবলৈ লোৱা ঠাইত কেবাজনো মানুহে সেইসময়ত  কাম কৰি আছিল। তাৰে ভিতৰত ওখ, চিকুণ মুখৰ ডেকাল’ৰা এজন আগবাঢ়ি তাইৰ চাইকেল খন মাটিৰ পৰা উঠাই সুধিছিল–

: ভন্টি, দুখ পালা নেকি?

লাজতে মুছকচ যোৱা জয়ন্তীয়ে আঠুৰ ওপৰলৈ উঠি যোৱা মেখেলাখন টানি তললৈ নমাই মুৰ জোকাৰিছিল। ল’ৰাজনে ৰিগ খনা ঠাইৰ পৰা পাম্প এটা আনি তাইৰ চাইকেলৰ চকাটোত হাৱা সোমোৱাই দিছিল। লগৰ কেইজনী অলপ আগলৈ গৈ তাইৰ বাবে ৰৈ আছিল। সেয়ে প্ৰথম চিনাকি, পাছত নামটো জানিছিল, চম্পক নাথ, গোৱালপাৰাৰ ফালে ঘৰ।

কথাষাৰ মনত পৰি ফিক কৈ হাঁহি এটা তাইৰ মুখত খেলি গ’ল।

জয়ন্তীয়ে ভাবিলে, এতিয়া এই তেল টেঙা নঘঁহি ফপৰীয়া হোৱা, জলহু চোলা কামিজেৰে  কিম্ভুত চেহেৰা লোৱা মানুহজন কিমান সুন্দৰ , মৰমীয়াল আছিল, তাইৰ প্ৰতি যত্নৰো অভাব নাছিল।

চাইকেল খন থৈ চোতালৰ পৰা পাকঘৰলৈ যাব খুজি তাই এবাৰ শোৱনি কোঠালৈ  ভুমুকি মাৰিলে, দেখিলে কুচি মুচি হৈ, বুকুত শ¹ণ হাত দুখন দি চম্পক শুই আছে। জয়ন্তীৰ ভিতৰৰ মনটো মৰমত গলি গ’ল।

হঠাতে তাইৰ মনত পৰিল, ভাতৰ চৰুটো জুইত উঠাই আহিছে, লৰালৰিকৈ পাকঘৰলৈ আহি  নুমাই যাব ধৰা  ভাতৰ চৰুৰ তলৰ জুই কুৰা বঢ়াই দিলে। দপদপকৈ জ্বলা জুইকুৰালৈ চাই তাই আকৌ ভাবিলে, কি দেখিছিল তাই চম্পক নামৰ মানুহটোৰ মাজত। তাৰ ধুনীয়া চেহেৰা আৰু সুন্দৰ ব্যবহাৰে তাইৰ কৈশোৰ আৰু যৌৱণৰ  দোকমোকালীতে মনৰ মাজত কৃ ষ্ণচূড়াৰ  দৰে ৰঙীণ ফুল ফুলাইছিল।

সেই চাইকেলৰ ঘটনাটোৰ পাছত  জয়ন্তী ইতিমধ্যে কলগছ বঢ়াদি  বাঢ়িছিল- দেহেৰেও আৰু মনেৰেও। তাইৰ বয়সটোৱে তেনে আছিল। চম্পকৰ লগত তাইৰ  কথা বতৰা চলিয়েই থাকিল স্কুললৈ অহাযোৱা কৰোতে। এদিন সি হাতৰ মুঠিত তাইক এখন চিঠি দি  ভালপোৱাৰ  কথা  সদৰি কৰিছিল। ভয় আৰু আনন্দত তাই ঠকঠককৈ ক¿ঁপছিল। কিন্তু তাইৰ সেই আনন্দ ক’ৰবালৈ পলাই ফাঁট মেলিছিল, যেতিয়া দেউতাকে সিহঁত দুটাৰ কথা ক’ৰবাত শুনি ভীষণ  দপদপাইছিল।

সেইদিনা ঘৰত তুলকালম কাণ্ড, তেওঁ কৈছিল —

ঃ খবৰদাৰ, মই যেন আৰু  তোক তাৰ লগত কথা পতা নুশুনো, নহ’লে কথা বেয়া হ’ব।  দেউতাকৰ ভয়ত তাই নিতাল মাৰি ঘৰৰ চুকত লুকাই আছিল গৈ।

জয়ন্তীয়ে জানিছিল ঘৰৰ মানুহে নামানিব, সুদুৰ নামনিৰ গোৱালপাৰাৰ অচিন কাঠৰ ঠোৰা মানুহ জনলৈ তাইক কেতিয়াও বিয়া নিদিয়ে। কিন্তু দিনে দিনে চম্পকৰ লগত হোৱা তাইৰ সৰ্ম্পক গভীৰ হ’বলৈ ধৰিলে।

তাৰ  পাছত কোনোমতে বছৰেক ঘূৰিল–মেট্ৰিক পৰীক্ষা দিয়াৰ শেহৰ দিনা— তাই আগতে ঠিক কৰি ৰাখিছিল যে চম্পকৰ লগত যাবগৈ। পৰীক্ষা দিবলৈ ওলোৱা স্কুলৰ মোনাটোত   জয়ন্তীয়ে বেছিকৈ কেইজোৰমান কাপোৰ সোমোৱাই লৈ চোতালৰ নামঘৰত সোমাই সেৱা কৰি ভগৱানৰ পৰা আশ¹বাদ ল’লে, মনে মনে মাক দেউতাকলৈও সেৱা জনালে। কাণ সমনীয়া ভনীয়েক জনীৰ বাবে মনটো বেয়া লাগিছিল, কিন্তু তেতিয়া আৰু উভতি চোৱাৰ সময় নাছিল। পৰীক্ষালৈ দেৰী হৈছে , এনে এক ভাবেৰে তাই চাইকেলত উঠিছিল। সেইদিনাই পৰীক্ষা দি উঠি তাই চম্পকৰ লগত গুছি গৈছিল।

জয়ন্তীক  ঘৰৰ পৰা কোনেও বিচাৰি নাহিল, হয়তো দেউতাকে তৰ্জন গৰ্জন কৰি তাই মৰিলে বুলি চৰু  পেলাবলৈ ঘৰৰ সকলোকে আদেশ দিছিল।

জয়ন্তীৰ  ওঠৰ  বছৰীয়া মনটোত চম্পকে ৰামধনুৰ সাতো ৰঙ সানিছিল, তাৰ হাতত খামুচি তাই চকুত ৰঙীণ সপোন লৈ ডিগবৈ চহৰত সংসাৰ আৰম্ভ কৰিছিল। চম্পকৰ লগত গুচি অহাৰ পাছত  সিহঁত তাত  আঠমাহ মান থাকিল।

সেইদিনাও তাই ৰাতিৰ আহাৰ ৰান্ধি আছিল। ইতিমধ্যে জয়ন্তীৰ গাত নতুন জীৱনে থিত লৈছিল। নিশা  চম্পক অহা দেৰী হৈছিল, হঠাতে দুৱাৰত শব্দ কৰি চম্পক সোমাই আহিলে, তাৰ চকু মুখত আতংক, যেন কোনোবাই তাক চাবুকেৰে  মাৰিছে।

: কি হৈছে? জয়ন্তীয়ে আৰ্তনাদ কৰি উঠিল।

:  জয়ন্তী , মই ধৰা পৰি গ’লো,  ৰতন হঁতে মোক মাতি নিছিল, কিন্তু কোম্পানীৰ গাড কেইটাই খেদি আহি আমাক ধৰি পেলালে।

:কি ধৰি পেলালে?

চম্পকে তাইক সাবটি ধৰি সৰু ল’ৰাৰ দৰে উচুপি উঠিল। তাৰ কান্দোনত অসহায় ভাব…সৰগ পৰা মানুহৰ দৰে  হোৱা জয়ন্তীয়ে তাৰ গাত ধৰি জোকাৰি সুধিলে

: কি হৈছে, মোক ভালকৈ কওঁক।

:জয়ন্তী, ৰতনহঁতে কোম্পানীৰ মাল চুৰ কৰি বাহিৰত বিক্ৰি কৰি ঢেৰ পইচা কৰিছে। যোৱা মাহত সি মটৰ চাইকেল কিনিলে, মোক আজি ৰাতি সিহঁতৰ লগত যাবলৈ মাতি নিছিল,মোৰো এখন মটৰ চাইকেলৰ লোভ আছিল।

: তাৰপিছত কি হ’ল? জয়ন্তী চিয়ঁৰি উঠিল, তাইৰ ধৈয্যৰ বান্ধ চিঙি গৈছিল

: ডাঙৰ ভুল কৰিলো, লোভত পৰিলো, মই সিহঁতৰ লগ ল’লো।

:লোভত পৰি ইমান ডাঙৰ ঘটনা হ’ল, মোক এবাৰো নক’লে।

তাইৰ বুকু ফালি কান্দোন এটা উজাই আহিল, তাইৰ হিয়া খন চিৰাচিৰ হৈ ফাটি গ’ল। চকুৰে ধোৱাঁ কোৱা দেখিলে। চম্পকক সাবটি তাইও কান্দোনত  ভঙি পৰিল। সেই দিনাই প্ৰথম বাৰৰ বাবে তাইৰ নতুন জীৱনৰ ৰামধনুৱে ৰং সলাইছিল।

আটাইকেইটা ধৰা পৰিল পাছত  জেইল হ’ল।  অবধাৰিত ভাবে চম্পকে চাকৰিটো হেৰুৱালে।আজি ইমান দিনৰ পাছতো  সেই যাতনাময় দিনবোৰৰ কথা ভাবি তাই মনে মনে কঁপি উঠে।       

অইল কোম্পানীৰ দুৱাৰ চম্পকৰ বাবে বন্ধ হৈ  যোৱাৰ পাছত সিঁহতৰ  চকুলৈ অন্ধকাৰ নামি আহিল। চম্পকৰ চকুলৈ চাব নোৱাৰি , অপৰাধ বোধৰ কৰুণ ছায়া তাৰ মুখত। জেলৰ পৰা ওলায়ে কেইবাদিনো ইফালে সিফালে ঘুৰি  সি জয়ন্তীৰ কাষত বহি কৈছিল-

ঃ কথা এটা ভাবিছো, শুলা নেকি?

প্ৰথম সন্তান তাইৰ গাত,মাজে মাজে তাই ভাগৰুৱা হৈ ÿযায়। বিচনাত ওপৰমুৱাকৈ হৈ শুই থকাৰ পৰা তাই ক’লে—

ঃ নাই শুৱা, কি কথা কওঁক–

ঃ অইল কোম্পানীৰ ফিটাৰ নৰেন কলিতাই তাৰ লগত সিহঁতৰ গাৱঁলৈ যাবলৈ লগ ধৰিছে।

ঃ কিয় নৰেন কলিতা ইয়াত নাথাকে নেকি?

ঃ সি অৱসৰ ল’ব, অহা মাহত, পৰিয়াল লৈ তাৰ নিজৰ গাওঁ মানে ছয়গাৱঁলৈ যাবগৈ।

ঃ ছয়গাওঁ ? ছয়গাওঁ ক ‘ত? জয়ন্তীৰ ভূগোলৰ জ্ঞানৰ সীমাৰ বাহিৰত ছয়গাওঁ।

ঃ ছয়গাওঁ, কামৰূপ জিলাত, গুৱাহাটী পাৰ হৈ।

ঃ  আওঁ , বহুতদূৰ দেখোন?

ঃ   অ, বহুত দূৰ, কিন্তু এই জেলখোৱা আচামী বহুত দূৰলৈ নগ’লে ক’ৰবাত চাকৰি পোৱাৰ আশা নাই।

জয়ন্তীৰ চিনাকি পৃথিবী খন সৌ ডিব্ৰুগড়লৈকে। তাৰ পাছত গুৱাহাটী, শুনিছে – বহুত দূৰ, এদিনৰ বাট।  গুৱাহাটীৰ পৰাও যাব লাগিব, কিমানদূৰ হ’ব পাৰে ছয়গাওঁ? তাইৰ মনত শংকা জাগি উঠিল। কিন্তু গিৰিয়েক চম্পকৰ কথাত হয়ভৰ নিদিলেও আন উপায় বিচাৰি পোৱা নাই। জেলৰ পৰা ওলাই লাজতে সি ঘৰৰ ভিতৰতে সোমাই থকাৰ দৰে। খুব তৰিৎ গতিত চিন্তাবোৰ তাইৰ মনৰ মাজত অগাদেৱা কৰিলে। তাৰ কথাত হয়ভৰ দিয়াই ভাল হ’ব যেন দেখিলে–

ঃ  জানো, যি ভাল দেখে কৰক, মোৰ গাটো বৰ ভাল নহয়।

তাইৰ সন্মতি পাই আনন্দিত হৈ সি কৈ উঠিল–

ঃ  তই চিন্তা নকৰিবি, আমি গুৱাহাটীলৈকে ৰেলত যাম, তোৰ একো অসুবিধা নহয়, তাৰপৰা  বাছত, দুঘন্টাৰ বাট।

জয়ন্তীৰ একো চিন্তা কৰিবৰ মন নগ’ল। সময় আৰু  ভাগ্যই তাইক য’লৈ লৈ যায় তাই যাবলৈ মনতে সাজু হ’ল। ৰঙীণ কৃষ্ণচূড়া ফুলে তাইৰ চকুৰ আগত খেলিবলৈ ধৰিলে।

সম্বল সাঁচতীয়া কেইহাজাৰমান টকা। জীৱন যুদ্ধৰ ৰণুৱা সিহঁত। ক’ৰবাত মুৰ গুজি দুবেলা-দুমুঠি আজুৰি খাব পৰাটোৱে  এতিয়া সপোন সিহঁতৰ।

চৌকাৰ  সন্মুখত বহি বহি আজি তাইৰ কিয় নাজানে ছয়গাৱঁৰ সংসাৰ খনৰ কথা মনলৈ আহিছে। জেল ফেৰত আচামীৰ মানসিক জড়তা দলিয়াই চম্পকে কাম কৰিবলৈ ধৰিলে,

–ৰাজমিস্ত্ৰীৰ যোগালী । নৰেন কলিতাহতঁৰ মাটি আধি লৈ খেতিও কৰিবলৈ ধৰিলে। দীপকৰ জন্ম নৰেন কলিতাই তেওঁৰ ঘৰৰ চোতালত সাজি দিয়া দুকোঠলীয়া  ঘৰ টোত হ’ল। কি আনন্দ সেইদিনা। দুবছৰৰ পাছত জয়া আহিল, কিন্তু তাইৰ মনলৈ আহিল  কেইবাবছৰৰ পাছত বিজয়া তাইৰ গালৈ অহা খবৰটো চম্পকক আবেলি কামৰ পৰা অহাৰ পাছত দিওঁতে আনন্দৰ সলনি সি একেবাৰে জ্বলিপকি উঠিছিল—

ঃ কি ক’লি, ক’ৰ পৰা খুৱাবি, আকৌ এটা পোৱালী হ’লে ?

হতভম্ব হৈ পৰা জয়ন্তীয়ে ভয়ে ভয়ে সেপ ঢুকি উত্তৰ দিছিল-

ঃহ’ব খুৱাম, এতিয়া যেনেদৰে টানি আজুৰি খুৱাইছো, তেনেকৈয়ে খুৱাম।

ঃকি ক’লি, মই মানুহটোৱে দিন ৰাতি কষ্ট কৰি অ’ৰ ত’ৰ পৰা  আনি খুৱাইছো,তই কি বুজিবি?

জয়ন্তীয়ে অবাক হৈ ভাবিছিল, কিমান সলনি হৈছে মানুহটো। আহিব ধৰা সন্তানৰ  প্ৰতি অসূয়া।

ঃ   জয়া—তাই চিঞৰি মাতিলে, আনদিনা ৰন্ধাৰ সময়ত লাচনি পাচনি কৰিবলৈ জয়া আহে, সেইদিনা অহা নাছিল, অৱশ্যে পঢ়ি থকাৰ মাজত ল’ৰা ছোৱালীকেইটাক মাতিবলৈ তাই ই২৬া নকৰে।

তাইৰ মাত শুনি জয়া দৌৰি আহি পাকঘৰৰ দুৱাৰ মুখত থিয় হ’লহি। জয়ালৈ চাই তাই ক’লে–

ঃ    খৰি কেইডালমান আনি দে আৰু বাপেৰক এবাৰ চাগৈ, খাটৰ পৰা সৰি পৰিল নেকি?

জয়াই হাবিৰ পৰা লুৰি আনি চোতালত শুকুৱাই ৰখা খৰি কেইডালমান তাইক দি ভিতৰলৈ দৌৰ মাৰিলে।

খৰি দুদালমান চৌকাৰ জুইত সোমোৱাই দি জুইকুৰা দপদপাই জ্বলাই দি, তাইৰ মনটো  আকৌ ছয়গাঁৱৰ মাজেদি বৈ যোৱা কলহী নদীৰ পাৰলৈ ধাপলি মেলিলে। সেই দিনকেইটা তাইৰ বাবে যেন অলপ সুখৰ আছিল। দিন আনি দিন খায় যদিও সিহঁতৰ শান্তি আছিল।

বিজয়াৰ জন্ম হ’ল,চম্পকে  প্ৰথমে অসন্তোষ কৰিলেও  পাছত তাইক মৰম কৰিছিল। বিজয়াৰ জন্ম হোৱাৰ  পাছতে  সি এদিন তাইক কৈছিল

ঃ এই মনজৰা গাৱঁতে বস্তিমাটি দুবিঘা মান§ কিনি নিগাজী হ’ম বুলি ভাবিছো, তই কেনে দেখ?

গিৰিয়েক চম্পকৰ কথাত তাই আনন্দত জপিয়াই দিবৰ মন গৈছিল। আবেগ লুকুৱাই কৈছিল

ঃ আপুনি যি ভাল দেখে কৰক, ইয়াৰ গঞাও বৰ ভাল।

ঃ এৰা, আমাক আদৰি লৈছে, ভিন দেশী বুলি ভবা নাই। চম্পকে ক’লে।

কলহী নদীৰ পাৰৰ মনজৰা নামৰ গাওঁখনতে জয়ন্তী হেঁত নিগাজী হোৱাৰ সপোন দেখিবলৈ ধৰিছিল।

কিন্তু মানুহে পাঙে বিধাতাই ভাঙে।

পাঁচ -ছয়বছৰ হ’ল, দীপকে যিবাৰ মেট্ৰিক পৰীক্ষা দিছিল, দুহাজাৰ পোন্ধৰ চন  (২০১৫)মান হ’ব , বাৰিষাৰ দিন–কি বৰষুণ, কি বৰষুণ,তিনি চাৰি দিন কলহৰ কাণেৰে ঢলা দি বৰষুণ দিয়াৰ পাছত চাৰিওফালৰ জান-জুৰিবোৰ একেবাৰে ওফন্দি উঠিছিল/ কলহীৰ বুকু খুব গভীৰ নহয়, পাহাৰৰ পৰা পানীৰ লগত  অহা শিল বালিয়ে নদীৰ বুকু তৰাং কৰি পেলাইছিল। চৰকাৰে কলহীৰ বুকুৰ পৰা বালি উঠাবলৈ বালিৰ মহল দিয়ে, তেনে মহলদাৰ-  ঠিকাদাৰ- মহৰীৰ লগত চম্পকেও কাম কৰে। সেইবছৰ বৰষুণৰ গতি দেখি কলহীৰ পাৰৰ গাওঁবোৰৰ মানুহ খিনিয়ে প্ৰমাদ গণিছিল, প্ৰথমে গুণ গুণকৈ পাছলৈ ডাঙৰকৈ কোৱাকুই কৰিছিল

ঃ এইবাৰ শেনৰ এজাত, গাঁও ডুবিব, লাম লাকটু যি আছে লৈ ক’ৰবালৈ যাবলৈ সাজু হ’, সেইমতে চম্পক-জয়ন্তী সাজু হৈছিল-লাম -লাকটু আৰু ল’ৰা ছোৱালী কেইটাক বুকুত সাবটি। অন্ধকাৰ নিশা,মুষলধাৰ বৰষুণ  পৰিছিল, ভয়ানক ভাবে  বাঢ়ি অহা   কলহীৰ বাঢ়নী পানীত চপৰা চপৰে খহিবলৈ ধৰিলে নিজৰ মৰমৰ গাওঁখনৰ মাটিবোৰ,  জয়ন্তীৰ নিজৰে গাৰ মঙহ এটুকুৰা এটুকুৰাকৈ এৰাই যোৱা যেন লাগিছিল। চাই থাকোতে থাকোতে থাকোতেই  নিজ হাতে গঢ়া ঘৰখন, নিজে ৰোৱা গছ-গছনিবোৰ নদীৰ বুকুত বিলীন হৈ গ’ল,-সিহঁত কৰ্পদকহীন হৈ পৰিল,   উস, কি সেই ভয়ানক দৃশ্য। প্ৰকৃতিৰ তাণ্ডবে  সিঁহতে নিবাক কৰি পেলালে।

চম্পক -জয়ন্তীৰ গঢ়ি লোৱা সংসাৰ খন  নদীৰ পাৰৰ মাটি খহা দি খহি পৰিল।  

মাটি ভেটি হেৰুওৱা মানুহৰ কান্দোন আৰু হুমুনিয়াহত কলহীৰ দুপাৰ কঁপি উঠিল।কলহী  বৰ নিষ্ঠুৰ, যিদৰে জীৱনক ঠন ধৰিবলৈ পলস পেলায় সেইদৰে প্ৰতি বছৰে কলহীত অহা বানে জীৱন তছ নছ কৰি পেলায়।

সকলো হেৰুৱাই সিহঁতে চকুৰে ধোঁৱা কোঁৱা দেখিলে, ক’লৈ যাব, কি কৰিব সিহঁতে ? কেইদিনমান চৰকাৰী ৰিলিফ কেম্পত থাকিল। কিন্তু কেম্পত বেছিদিন থাকিব পৰা সুবিধা নাছিল।

ৰিলিফ কেম্পৰ পৰা ওলাই  বানে খেদা দিক বিদিক হেৰুওৱা বড়ো, ৰাভা, যোগী, কলিতা  মানুহ বোৰৰ লগত চম্পক জয়ন্তীয়ে ওচৰৰ ৰিৰ্জাভ খনত সোমালগৈ। এফালৰপৰা লগৰ  বড়ো- ৰাভা মানুহ খিনিৰ লগত সিহঁতেও মাটি ভাঙিবলৈ ধৰিলে।  সিহঁতে জানিছিল  ৰিজাৰ্ভৰ মাটি ভাঙি গাওঁ পতা ঠিক নহয় কিন্তু জীয়াই থকাৰ যুদ্বত নিয়ম নীতি উফৰি যায়।

মাজে মাজে জয়ন্তীয়ে ভাবে জীৱন কিয় ইমান নিষ্ঠুৰ হয়।

সকলোৱে মিলি মাটি ভাঙি সিহঁতে দুখন গাঁও পাতিলে। ৰিজাৰ্ভৰ মাজতে থকা প্ৰকাণ্ড বিলখনৰ পূবে ঔগুৰি আৰু পশ্চিমে চলচলী। জয়ন্তীহঁতে কষ্ট কৰি মাটি ভাঙি বাঁহ, কলগছ ৰুই, ধান-শাক -পাচলিৰ  খেতি কৰি বহিছে। বিলখনতো প্ৰচুৰ মাছ; বহুতে মাছ মাৰি ছয়গাঁৱৰ বজাৰত বিক্ৰী কৰিও চাউল মুঠি উলিয়ায়।

কিন্তু  জয়ন্তীৰ জীৱনে আকৌ ৰং সলাবলৈ ল’লে। চম্পক লাহে লাহে সলনি হ’বলৈ ধৰিলে—-চাকৰি বাকৰি নাই, হাজিৰা কৰি দুবেলা দুমুঠি যোগাৰ কৰাৰ কষ্ট, পিত্ত বেমাৰে চেপেটা কৰা চম্পকে কেবাবছৰৰ আগৰে পৰা ফটিকা খোৱাত ধৰিছে।গাৱঁৰ ভিতৰতে বড়ো-ৰাভা সকলে বনোৱা লাওপানী, কেতিয়াবা চুলাইতো ধৰে। নিচা খাই বিস্তৰ চিঞৰবাখৰ  কৰে । জয়ন্তীৰ ভয় লাগে নিচাত ক’ব নোৱৰা হৈ বাটে ঘাটে পৰি থাকে বুলি।

আজিয়ে দুফালে দুটা বস্তুৰে ভৰা মোনা ওলোমাই একা বেঁকাকৈ চাইকেল চলাই কোনোমতেহে সি ঘৰ পাইছিলেহি।

ঃঐ, ভাত হ’ল নে/ ইমান দেৰী লাগেনে?  চম্পকে বিচনাৰ পৰা হুংকাৰ দিলে।

ভাৱত বিভোৰ জয়ন্তী চক খাই উঠিল।

তাই সঁচকিত হৈ চৌকাৰ জুইকুৰা বঢ়াই দিলে। ভাত হৈছেই, গাহৰিৰ মাংসখিনিহে বক বককৈ উতলি আছে।

:জয়া—

তাই চিঞৰি মাতিলে। ভাত বাঢ়িবৰ সময়ত জয়াই আহি মজিয়াখন আটাই-পিতাই দিয়ে, থাল বাতিবোৰ যতনাই দিয়ে। তেতিয়াহে তাইৰ মনত পৰিল, পুতেকৰ মাত বহুত দেৰী শুনা নাই। সি এই মাজ ৰাতিলৈকে নাই অহা নেকি? ক’ত গ’ল, কি কৰিছে, তাইৰ বুকু কঁপি উঠিল।তাইৰ মাত শুনি পাকঘৰৰ দুৱাৰ মুখত থিয় হোৱা জয়ালৈ চাই সুধিলে।

:ককায়েৰ এতিয়াও অহা নাই?

:নাই। জয়াই উত্তৰ দিলে।

শুনি চিন্তাত তাইৰ কঁপালৰ গাঁঠি থুপ খাই গ’ল। এই মাজনিশালৈকে সি ক’ত বন বনাই ফুৰিছেগৈ।

:কাঁহি-বাতি যোগাৰ কৰ, শুনা নাই- বাপেৰে চিঞৰি আছে।

কৈয়ে তাই আখলৰ পৰা উঠি সাউতকৈ পদূলীৰ ফালে ওলাই গ’ল। ঘূট ঘূটীয়া অন্ধকাৰ, আন্ধাৰৰ মাজেৰে ডিঙি মেলি তাই চাবলৈ ধৰিলে– তাই দেখিলে দূৰৈত আন্ধাৰ ফালি পুতেকে ডাঙৰ ডাঙৰকৈ বেঙা মেলি আহি আছে। আচলতে ঘিটমিটীয়া আন্ধাৰৰ মাজত আহি থকা পুতেকক ঘেৰি জোনাকী পৰুৱাৰ থোপা এটা– তাই উমানতে ধৰিলে পুতেক বুলি। পদূলীৰ মূৰত আন্ধাৰৰ মাজত তাইক থিয় হৈ থকা দেখি সি আচৰিত হৈ সুধিলে–

:উৱা, তই ইয়াত থিয় হৈ কি কৰিছ?

:কটা- মৰাটো তোকে চাই আছো।ক’ত মৰগৈ ইমান নিশালৈকে।

কৈ কৈ তাই পুতেকৰ মুখৰ ওচৰলৈ মুখখন নি গোন্ধ ল’বলৈ চেষ্টা কৰিলে, সিও ফটিকাত ধৰিছে নেকি? যদি ধৰিছে এতিয়াই তাক কাণতলীয়া চৰ এটা মাৰিলেহেঁতেন। পাছে তাৰ মুখত ফটিকাৰ গোন্ধ নাই।

পুতেকে মদ খাই  নাই  অহা বুলি ধৰিব পাৰি তাইৰ মনটো পাতল হৈ গ’ল। স্ব¿™b¦ৰ বতাহ এজাকে তাইক কোবাই গ’ল।         

: আহ, ভিতৰলৈ,   তাই মৰমেৰে ক’লে।

মাক পুতেক   দুয়ো সোমাই পাকঘৰ পালেগৈ। মজিয়াতে টিপ চাকিটো দি আটাই কেউটা গোল হৈ ভাত খাবলৈ বহিছে। তাই আটাইকে ভাত বাঢ়ি দিলে। চম্পকে দুগৰাহমান মুখলৈ নিছে– জয়ন্তীয়ে কাৰোবাক কিবা লাগিলে দিবলৈ বুলি ভাতৰ পাতত বহা নাই। তেনেতে মুখত এগৰাহ ভাত সুমোৱাই চোবাই চোবাই পুতেকে ক’লে–.     

:দেতা, কথা এটা শুনিছ নেকি?

:কি– ? জেঙেৰা মাৰি চম্পকে সুধিলে।

তাইৰ বুকুখন চিৰিং কৈ গ’ল– কি বা হৈছে, তাই কাণ উনাই ৰ’ল–বাহিৰত বাদুলী এটা ধপধপাই  উৰি গ’ল।

:মই তিলেশ্বৰ দাইটিৰ ঘৰত শুনি আহিলো, এই ৰিজাৰ্ভত কিবা বোলে এভেকচন হ’ব।

: কি এভেকচন, কৰ্কশ মাতেৰে চম্পকে কৈ উঠিল।

: এভেকচন মানে কি?  জয়ন্তীয়ে আটাহ পাৰি সুধিলে।

জয়ন্তীৰ মূৰৰ পৰা ভৰিলৈকে তেজৰ শীতল সোতঁ এটা বৈ গ’ল। 

:এভেকচন মানে ৰিজাৰ্ভত বহি থকা গাঁওবোৰ চৰকাৰে উঠাই দিব। পুতেকে ক’লে।

:কিয়? আমিবোৰ ক’লৈ যাম? কিয় উঠাব? হাহাঁকাৰ এটা তাইৰ ডিঙিয়েদি ওলাই আহিল। জয়ন্তীৰ মাতৰ  হাঁহাকাৰটোৱে আটাইকেইটাৰ বুকুত খুন্দা মাৰিলে।

: কিয় উঠাব মানে? এইখন ৰিজাৰ্ভ চৰকাৰৰ। আমিবোৰে অনিয়াই কৰি গাঁও পাতিছো। পুতেকে এইবাৰ মোলায়েম সুৰত কথাষাৰ ক’লে।

মাক পুতেকৰ কথা বতৰা শুনি চম্পকৰ নিচা ফাটি গৈছিল।

: হুঁ, কোন বাপেকৰ পুতেকে আমাক উঠাবলৈ আহে চাই ল’ম–ময়ো চম্পক নাথ, 

বুলি কৈ কৈ সি ভাতৰ পাতৰ পৰা উঠিল। তাৰ মাতৰ দম্ভ কমা নাই।

: তিলেশ্বৰ দাইতিয়ে ৰিৰ্জাভৰ অফিচত দখাস্ত দিম বুলিছে। চাওঁচোন কি হয়।

তললৈ মুখ কৰি ভাত খাই থকাৰ পৰা দীপকে ক’লে।

জয়া-বিজয়াই খাবলৈ পাহৰি আচৰিত হৈ ককায়েকৰ কথা শুনিবলৈ ধৰিলে।

:মা খাই ল’– টিপচাকিটো যায় যায়। বিজয়াই ক’লে–

ভাত খাবলৈ বহি লোৱা ঠাইতে জয়ন্তী থৰ লাগিল। জয়ন্তীৰ মূৰ আচন্দ্ৰাই কৰিবলৈ ধৰিলে – চাৰিওফালৰ পৃথিৱীখন ঘূৰিবলৈ ধৰিলে, তাই টিপ চাকিটোলৈ চালে, মূৰটো ক’লা পৰি ধোৱা ওলাইছে,নুমাও নুমাও কৰা টিপচাকি টোৰ মূৰৰ ক’লা টোপাকেইটাই তাই ইমান দিনে মনৰ চকুৰে দেখা আকাশী ৰঙৰ  ঔগুৰি বিলৰ নীলা ৰঙৰ পানীৰে ভৰা বিল, পাৰৰ  সেউজীয়া কঠিয়াৰে ঢৌ খেলি থকা ভৰুণ পথাৰ খনৰ মনোমোহা ছবিখনক ধুৱঁলি- কুৱঁলী কৰি পেলালে। তাইৰ চকু-মুখ-কপাঁলত চাকিৰ ধেঁাৱাই খুন্দা মাৰি ধৰিলে, চকু সেমেকি উঠিল। ডিঙিটোও যেন শুকাই গৈছে-  বহা ঠাইতে তাই যেন পাতল হৈ উপঙি গৈছে, নতুনকৈ সপোন দেখিবলৈ আৰম্ভ কৰিছিল, হঠাতে উপলব্ধি কৰিলে এই সপোনো আধাতে মৰহিবনেকি?

তাইৰ জীৱনটোৱে  পুলি পোখা মেলি ঔগুৰি গাৱঁতে শিপা গজিব বুলি ভবা সপোনটোৱে চলাহী কৰিলে, ধুমুহাত ডাঙৰ গছ শিপাৰে সৈতে উভালি পৰিলে যিদৰে লাহে লাহে ভূপতিত হয় সেইদৰে জয়ন্তীও  পীৰা খনত বহি থকাতে শিপা উভলা গছৰ দৰে ঢলি পৰিলে । 

ঃ মা-অ-মা, কি হৈছে তোৰ ! জয়া-বিজয়া দুয়োজনীয়ে দৌৰি আহি তাইক মাটিৰ পৰা উঠাবলৈ চেষ্টা কৰিলে। পুতেক দীপকো দৌৰি আহিল।

জয়ন্তীৰ চকুৰ আগেৰে টকীত দেখা ছবিৰ দৰে এখনৰ পাছত এখন ছবি পাৰ হৈ গ’ল–তাইৰ জীৱনৰ স’তে সংম্পৃত মানুহবোৰৰ ছবি, ইমান দিনে পাহৰি যোৱা  মাক-দেউতাকৰ ছবি, সেইযে নতুন জীৱনৰ সপোনৰ সোপানত উঠিবলৈ তাই মাক দেউতাকৰ ঘৰ এৰিছিল, সেই ঘৰ খন, কলহী নদীৰ পাৰৰ ঘৰখন–তাইৰ ঔগুৰিৰ ঘৰখন–তাইৰ সপোনৰ ঘৰখন–সপোনৰ পাছত  তাই দৌৰিছে, মাথো  দৌৰ ।।

এই দৌৰৰ শেষ ক’ত?

এনেকৈয়ে শেষ হ’ব নেকি তাইৰ জীৱন… তাইৰ শিপা ক’ত…..হাহাঁকাৰ এটাই তাইক জপতিয়াই ধৰিলে।

তাই হাতমেলি পুতেক-জীয়েক হঁতৰ হাতত ধৰি মাটিৰ পৰা উঠিবলৈ চেষ্টা কৰিলে।

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