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Love and Pain

NEHA BAXLA

“Grandnan wake up, we have so many preparations to do, you can’t be sleeping like
an old lady”, Niti came shouting and jumping on the bed without noticing that her
jump startled Theo that he almost squeaked and ran away. Niti was always
fascinated about India and stories that I used to tell her. Little she realized that her
Grandnan is now old enough to remember stories precisely.
Uditi came running behind as Niti was once again hiding her favorite pinafore dress
that Uditi had ordered for her birthday.
I woke up, found my glasses beside a wooden table lamp and adjusted my night
gown that barely stayed on my plump body nowadays. I looked outside my
windows on the streets of Houston, closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
“Where are my lovely girls?” but the girls were still arguing over just started fight.
I then called for Theo and started pampering him with kisses which was returned
with too many saliva on my face. Theo has been part of my life since passing of my
late husband, as a gift on my 50th birthday. Seeing this act of love, Niti and Uditi
came running, wrapped themselves around me and pecked me on both cheeks as I
wished them a very Happy Birthday, Niti and Uditi then started singing in unison –
“Happy birthday to dearest Grandnan,
Wish you bloom like the flowers in our garden, wish you stay as young as ever,
Happy birthday to you……”
Niti and Uditi were twins and shared their birthday with the Independence Day of
my beloved country Bharat and their Grandnan. Twins will be celebrating their 15th
and I, 73rd with Independent Bharat. Yes, Bharat and not India I preferred to call. A
country of vibrancy and a place of myriad values and cultural heritage. On every
birthday both twins have been hearing stories about my childhood. Today, however
is a special day.
Kaveri had made their favorite chocolate banana pancakes with maple syrup and
mango cheese cake as a pre-birthday demand from the kids. I, on the other hand as
usual preferred chapattis and potato bhaji.
Soon the kids were on the couch on either side with Theo on Uditi’s lap. Kaveri left
for her work saying that she would be returning by 2’o clock as the kids had insisted
to start the celebrations early.
A bright sunny day of July 1958, birds chirping, morning Kirtan at top of the volume
from the house of Shanti Tai, but none bothering me, I ran down the stairs straight
to Uday uncle’s sweet shop across the streets. Uday uncle raised me in his arms and
gave me my favorite Kaju Katli.
“What is bothering you Bhumi”? Uday uncle asked.
Gorging both Kaju Katlis at once, I said, “Mum is bad, she is once again giving me
that pink medicine and it tastes yuck”. Uday uncle laughed his heart out. He was
always amused by my complaining chants.
“Yes, so that you don’t get sore throat at night and disturb my sleep”, my mum had
entered the shop and was staring angrily at Uday uncle for spoiling me with sweets.
I lived with my parents (only child) in two bedroom apartment across the streets in
Bel Bagan, Ranchi, a small town in Chotanagpur during those days. My window
gave the most perfect view of the entire activities on the streets.
Rangrez Street got intersected with Patel Street from the opposite and then got
connected with main road. We were a total of only 35 households in Rangrez Street,
filled with garment shops, whole seller traders, Abdul chacha saree centre (chacha
pampered me with sweet sewai sometimes) and Raju chaiwala. My father, Prakash
Raj Shashtri was a businessman and owned a small shop – Shashtri Puja Bhandar,
selling all kinds of materials needed for offering prayer to Gods, and, he was hugely
respected. My school was not far from Rangrez Street, 2 streets down the lane and
there it was St. Mary’s English Medium Middle school. Usually while going to school
on a bicycle with my babuji, I would greet every known faces on the streets. A warm
smile and kind greetings were always showered to me and babuji in return. Shanti
Tai came from affluent family and was my mother’s best gossip partner out of all the
ladies in Bel Bagan and I was best friend to Damini, Shanti Tai’s only daughter. We
were chatter boxes showing our toys, drawings of mountains, trees and birds.
Damini’s father was a barrister in Ranchi High Court.
“When will you buy me a new pinafore dress”? I whined to babuji.
“Soon”, he replied coldly, not paying attention to my excitement. It was my 11th
birthday next month.
“But, when”? I now started crying. Babuji levelled down Indian Express journal that
he was reading, took me on his lap and said, “Pavitra Bhumi, my heart, my love,
your birthday will be more special this year, you will get a beautiful pinafore dress
and a surprise gift from babuji and amma. Just have patience my little bird”, I
smiled and wrapped my arms around his warm body.
It was my birthday week. Usually, on my birthday the entire Rangrez Street joined
the celebration with élan. Exuberantly, I had already invited Shanti tai, Abdul
chacha, Uday uncle, Raju chaiwala and almost entire street to be part of my
pompous celebration.
I was born on the day, when Bharat became a free nation from the English. I am
named after ‘Bharatvarsha’ – Pavitra Bhumi. The entire street had celebrated the
freedom as I was welcomed into this world with great joy and merry making.
14th August 1958, babuji was supposed to take me to get a new dress for my
birthday. I was dressed and sitting by the window watching Raju chaiwala serving
hot chai to 2 unfamiliar faces I have never seen before in our street. Without paying
heed to their nonchalant poised expression, I noticed Damini going to Uday uncle’s
shop carefree wearing her midi skirt and tank top. I then saw those 2 men talking to
each other and pointing to Damini before walking away.
Late evening, Babuji arrived and we went to Sharma garments in Patel Street and
bought the most beautiful pink pinafore dress along with a pink halo hair band and a
few twinkling hair clips. While returning Babuji paid a visit to Shankar babu on the
other side of the road for some business chit chat. Meanwhile I watched
Independence Day preparations down the streets in full swing. Shops were
beautifully decorated with tricolor paper cuttings, street vendors were covering the
exposed part of their stalls with beautiful clothes and carefully placing
mouthwatering sweets in triangular shapes. A woman shouting from her low roofed
terrace to her children to come for dinner while they were playing blithely on street.
Two street dogs were carelessly watching them play. Big flashy cars were honking
down the roads to reach the comfort of their home and family. Jana Gana Mana was
faintly heard from the distance. I looked to Babuji and signaled that I am greedily
hungry now.
It was 45 minutes past 10, we left for our home while street sorely went silent with
most of the shops closed and humans inside their abode.
Babuji and I took another turn from Patel Street as the usual path was blocked
because of some municipal work that was started earlier today by Ranchi Municipal
Corporation. It was utter darkness and I was holding hands of Babuji imagining if
any dark figure is lurking around to eat us up. Just as we crossed Abdul chacha’s
shop at the far end of the street, we heard struggled mumbling of a girl from behind
the walls. Babuji asked me to stay there, and went to check.
I waited impatiently as I could clearly hear verbal fights now, I ran to check and was
startled to see that they were same 2 men whom I had seen earlier at Raju chaiwala
and most shockingly my best friend Damini was lying on the floor crying. I ran and
picked her up.
Nothing clear was going in my mind. Why was she lying on the floor? What were
those men doing with her? Why was babuji arguing with them?
Babuji shouted at me, “Take Damini to her home, and straight run to your’s, don’t tell
amma about this. I shall return quickly”.
I sensed the tensed air, took Damini with her hands and quickly starting running to
our safety. My heart ached for leaving babuji there with those two vicious men on
the street. Damini was not in a state of running but I tried hard with her, she could
just not run, seems she was in some pain. So we hid behind Raju chaiwala’s stall.
“Stay here and don’t move at any cost, until babuji and I return to take you”, I said
expeditiously.
“Bbb...ut where are you going”? She asked agitated.
“To help babuji….” I was already running to help him.
I went and banged doors of Abdul chacha as his house was nearer to the spot of
dispute. He hurriedly opened and saw me panicking.
“What happened Bhumi, why are you sweating so much? Is everything alright?”
I was down on my knees and crying, “Please come and help babuji, guess he is in
danger”.
Abdul chacha ran down the street with me to the location of brawl. I saw my father
scuffing with around 5 men now. Chacha pushed me behind haystack and went to
analyze the situation or say help my helpless father.
There was no talking as they had entered into fist fighting on the street now. Just as
I could think anything, a sharp knife hit babuji on his right chest, meanwhile chacha
was still struggling to fight the bad men, while another knife hit him on his back. I
gasped my mouth and tried hard to hold my tears. Babuji and Chacha struggled
endlessly despite being hit more than once by those ruthless men. Babuji picked a
metal rod, faltering, and started hitting those men mercilessly. Soon those men ran
away as my 2 brave men fought really hard, all at the cost of lying in a pool of blood.
I ran to babuji and held him in my arms. I was crying hastily.
“Pavitra Bhumi, you are my most precious daughter, become a girl of dignity and
always fight for anything wrong. Become a girl of values and make your babuji
proud, I will always guard you in every step of your life, just close your eyes and
remember me”, he was losing his breath now.
“Abdul, my lovely friend, thank you for being a support and giving a good lesson to
those vicious men, who were trying to hurt my little Damini shamelessly, let’s go on a
beautiful journey together”, saying this Abdul chacha squirmed close and held his
hand.
The clock in distance struck 12:00 AM alarm marking the day of freedom.
“Happy birthday Bhumi”, Babuji and Abdul chacha said together and breathe their
last on the same street that was comfort in light but turned bloodbath in dark.
I cried with a deep excruciating pain in my heart but it got fainted in pitch darkness.
I sat there so long that I lost track of time, lying next to my father’s corpse.
Soon, I heard my mother wailing and most of the people were now on the street.
Damini was also taken to her parents. Damini’s father immediately called the police
and matter was taken into their hands. The entire residents of Rangrez Street
wanted justice for Prakash Raj Shashtri and Abdul Rehman. My birthday would
never be same again nor the Independence of India for me.
Years passed, Damini’s father fought our case with endless turmoil, dates, and
courts.
I, on the other hand, went on to become a barrister at Ranchi High Court as Damini’s
father took me as his protégé. My mother passed when I hit 26 years of age living a
great deal of void in my life. All I had was, the humans of Rangrez Street with whom
I had shared my major part of life. Times changed, so did Rangrez Street. I,
however had been fighting rigorously with the authorities to bring a change.
25 years since the incident took place, I was wearing the best salwar kameez today,
my husband and my daughter Kaveri were loaded with best wishes. Uday Uncle
who now have become bed ridden, still managed to send me lots of Kaju Katlis,
Damini was also there with her family to wish me. Raju chaiwala now had a good
restaurant in the same street. Abdul chacha saree centre was now a 2 storeyed
saree emporium center. The entire Rangrez Street was celebrating.
Honorable Shri. Ram Babu Yadav (Governor of the city) had come for the
inauguration.
As the clock struck 01:00 PM, Shri. Yadav ji cut the ribbons, curtains fell and
flowers were showered endlessly. On black granite, beautifully engraved in golden
was:
“Men who showed courage, Men who fought bravely,
Men who fought for dignity of a daughter,
All men must learn to become few gems,
Shine, my long lost friends.”
Inaugurated by Shri Ram Babu Yadav (Governor)
On 20th August 1983.
Hereby, renamed as “Shashtri-Abdul Street”
Tears rolled down my cheeks as I closed my eyes and said “Miss you Babuji, miss
you every day my hero”. I silently went to the spot where my father and Abdul
chacha lost their lives, bent and kissed the ground while a cool breeze ran through
my hair and I knew my father was there feeling proud of his Pavitra Bhumi. I spent
rest of my live fighting for the safety of young girls and women in the Department of
women and child development after being a barrister for considerable time.
Theo jumped with a loud thud on the door, Kaveri was home. Both the kids were
smiling and looking at my teary eyed face. They got up, went running to their
mother and whispered something to her. Kaveri looked proudly to their beautiful
kids.
I retired to my room, pulled a drawer and took out an old family album reminiscing
old days.
Niti and Uditi came running to my room. “Grandnan let’s go, our friends are waiting”,
they both exclaimed together.
As I walked down the hall, I noticed a huge frame wrapped in pink shiny wrapper
with the biggest decorated flower shaped ribbon I have ever seen.
It was a black and white old picture of my babuji fitted beautifully in black wooden
frame. I literally fell to the ground and hugged my little granddaughters.
My life in a nutshell revolved around the streets and the people that I grew up with.
A Street that paved a journey of my life. Little to be told more to be felt.


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