One fine Sunday of November of 1999, the over-stayed period at Sambalpur Main branch, as had completed probation on 31st July 1999, took to Keonjhar by my newly purchased Yamaha-YBX motorcycle. A whooping distance of 217 Km on serpentine NH-6, running through the green mountain terrain and ghat roads that often have the dense cloud at an arm’s distance has always allured me.
It must have been a long gap that I was extended a grand welcome by my family members. But with progress of the day my family's welcoming faces died away, specifically my mother’s. By evening the tension and agony on my mother's face was clearly visible. It came to me that, she must have a fight with father over some trivial issue. Unexpectedly my immediate younger sister dropped in, carrying her first toddler girl child. Though she used to stay in Keonjhar but was not expected at that hour as I was supposed to visit theirs for dinner, we discussed before my leaving Sambalpur. I welcomed her with a smile but she appeared bit tensed.
I picked the kid from her as she went directly to mother's room, shutting the door behind. I walked up to the terrace carrying the baby and was busy playing with her. After some 20 minutes my mother and my sister came to terrace and without much transactions my mother snatched the kid in a rage purring, "Malish karibi...(I will massage the kid…)" that I could not decipher.
My sister preferred to be with me on terrace. I asked about mother's sudden change of attitude but she preferred to remain silent.
Silence continued for few more moments.
Even the fatigue of 217 km bike ride was having its toll in my agreement to maintain silence for few more minutes.
The neighbouring children down below shouting, "Babuli bhai kebe asila? Asa cricket kheliba … (Babuli Brother, when did you arrive? Let’s join for cricket…)" made me to waive my palm in denial at intervals, signalling to join the day after.
Folding both her hands close to chest she stood motionless, as if she was also enjoying the silence chilly wintery evening of Keonjhar town.
"Bhai, gote katha pacharibi ki nahin ... kintu... ... ... Na pachariki ki upaya nahin...(Brother, don’t know whether to ask a question … but … … Can’t avoid asking … )" was the first line I heard from her since the moment I welcomed her into our house, opening the door at the ringing door-bell some half an hour before. The only prior transaction was her saying a “Sorry...” for not touching my feet, as usual, as she was carrying baby. Offered a namaskar (greetings) with folded hand.
Being the eldest to three sisters, was the undisputed helper to my mother till I left for Burla in 1990 for pursuing engineering. I had mastered the art of making roti resembling to a Full-Moon, cutting vegetables even sweeping the rooms. With my house-hold traits, was having a very friendly relationship with all the ladies of my home. But the sudden change of my mother's behaviour along with the absurd deliberations of my sister was enough to shatter the goody-goody son-brother character.
I managed to letting, "Please do!"
My Permission made her not that comfortable. Though the dusk around was maturing to more darkness of a typical wintery night of Keonjhar with dense misty fog but there was enough light to see the wrinkles on her forehead.
The surrounding chilly atmosphere could not help stopping few drops of sweat dripping from the side of my ears. Her continued silence made me more tensed and uncomfortable of an unforeseen question that she was struggling hard to put forth.
I was haunted with, “What she is referring to?”
All these made to me to fall in love with the prevailing silence and I was happy as it continued further for few more minutes. But the silence was broken with by her, "Bhai, you have always been a source of great inspiration for three of us. For you studies, for your intelligence, for your being well-articulated and above all a great human being with heart full of love and compassion. We have always boasted for you being our brother so do our parents for you being their son."
Her words made me stunned. As I never thought that the kids who grew up with me made her their representative to speak so loud about their heart out at me. For the first time I felt like the three kids have grown faster than me and the person standing next to me have matured to the extent she feels like reprimanding me from doing something wrong.
But my heart was yelling, "What the hell ... have I done ... " but silently.
Though her words gave me little solace I was enduring silence of death inside about what she was referring at.
My youngest sister came to the terrace with a shawl and offered her that she denied and advised, "Darkar nahin ... Tu ja'a... Ame asuchu...(Not required ... You go … We will join … )"
The silence was again broke by my sister, "Bhai, are you in love with someone?” promoted me to hiss "Why?". The only word I spoke since she joined me on the terrace and started a conversation where we both were comfortable keeping our silence.
She further continued, "You are the only son to our parents and only brother to three of us. If you are really in love with someone then, tell the truth. We will stand by you. Yes, being parents their dream of finding a daughter-in-law of their choice may be splintered but I am sure they have to agree to your proposition. Don't worry we three will be there with you."
Every word of her made me to repose my faith in the age-old adage, "Marriage is the most beautiful institution."
Maturity in her every uttered word left me wondering that the same girl who was up to my help even at the point of her stepping out of home after marriage, cried “Bhia ... (Brother ...)” so loud that I ran bare-footed behind the car till she was out of sight, was standing tall and was assuring to raise a fierce battle against Lady Hilter, we address our mother, and even with father, a man of few words who doesn’t believe in listening.
A smile slipped out of my tight lips and I gently told, "Are you mad? Anyway, what made you presume that I am in love?"
With a distinguishable authority in her tone, her words reached me, piercing that pitch-black late-dusk of Keonjhar, "Kemiti janili … kana nihati janiba darkar. Semiti kichi paili boli ta pacharuchi. Tu katha ban'ara'a na. (How I knew … not that important. But found something that made me ask. Don’t try to avoid my question.)"
Her words made me scan through my immediate past since entering the home at around 1.00 pm and did find nothing suspicious that my sister taking me into the task on behalf of the family.
She continued, "Bhai, don't take it otherwise but if you are really in love or into some relationship, then please be truthful. I assure you of your marrying to your chosen girl ... Do I know her?"
I lost my control and thundered, "How dare you to speak that your brother is in a relationship? Do you know the meaning of it or just for the sake of saying you are saying?"
Well before she got married we had a lot of fights and though she was weak physically but exhibited exemplary courage resulting every time my being badly defeated, sometimes by her tears and sometimes by her shouting madly. That dusk on the terrace was no different at all. She shouted aloud with sobbing, "Bhai, chakarani to bag jhadila belaku gote condom packet pai Maa ku deichi! (Brother, the house-maid while emptying your bag, found a condom pack and gave it to Mother)".
The words were uttered with a tone full of pain, agony, and anxiety by my younger sister, sobbing aloud but I didn't need a request to repeat.
I was just numb hearing what my sister pitched and that darkness of misty wintery evening of Keonjhar was not enough for my noticing that she was still holding her head down and was sobbing profusely.
Ours being a gap of 3-4 years from a middle-class family had to share a lot.
I had to preserve my textbooks to be used by her after a gap of 3 years. Even she scolded me many a times for writing my names on the textbooks as I had and even now have very bad handwriting. Often she had to cover my name by rubbing dark sketch.
When she joined her school I was to accompany her as her first school friend. Often she slips into my slippers in hurry, leaving me to run after her naked-footed. We had been very close siblings of four.
I was not at all hurt by the allegations I was framed with, on behalf of my family. But I was hurt for her sobbing with pain and agony and could not help my tears rolling down continuously even after my best effort.
I didn't doubt her words as she was one of the darlings of my father for her truthfulness. Even I didn't doubt the blue-white kit bag that I used for carrying my belongings for a tiresome motor-cycle ride from Sambalpur to Keonjar was mine. It was one of the most valuable possessions since the day I purchased at an enormous price of Fifteen Hundred, though my monthly salary was only Ten Thousand rupees.
One colleague often asked about the address of the shop and even many had commented, "Sir, that bag suits you perfectly. You look dashing!"
Then how come the condom pack was there to be found in my bag?
The question made me scan my past but my sister's sobbing getting uncontrollable, at times she took longer time to get back her breath, made me sobbing and it seemed like both of us were unstoppable. I was unable to concentrate to find a reason behind the allegations, I was charged with.
Her sobbing, taking longer time on each occasion for getting her breath was telling about the pain she must have endured in failing to rationalise her bachelor elder brother carrying condom along with.
Our middle-class background teaches about the character being the only price possession as our parents could hardly afford a lavish life-style and other valuables available in the market.
Even thinking about my mother who used to thrash me with whatever she finds around till my passing engineering and my father whose eyes speak louder than his words like a common orthodox family made my crying worst than my sister.
My sister even had to rest her palms on the edge of the terrace boundary else she would have fallen on floor. My extending a hand for support was rudely denied, "Chinta karni … Mun thik achi. (Don’t worry … I am fine.)"
Denial was enough to depict that in my family's eyes, I have fallen to a position from where I can never ever rise again whatever explanation I may give. Even, I was not able to pin-point the source of that pack which was discovered from my bag that too by our housemaid.
Suddenly I remembered, a holiday for Tuesday was declared only on the night of Saturday in TV news that made me take a ride from Sambalpur to Keonjhar in the early morning of Sunday as Monday was a holiday. It was about 10.30 pm, after sipping little alcohol that I decided to take up a ride after some 3 months away from home.
Only during getting ready for packing, I could confirm that my blue-white bag was missing and after searching all the corners of that quarter of Excise Colony. I was accommodated by Biswanath, younger brother of one of my colleagues. The bag could not be traced to my best effort.
I was left with no choice than to wake up Biswanath, owner of the quarter and another guy Maharan who was also working in Excise Department from their deepest slumber after post-dinner two-pegs of alcohol. It needed a good bit of my effort to make those two onto their feet and to make them understand for my daring from their sleep.
Both the guys under intoxication joined me in searching for the bag, but after 10 minutes we three came to an agreement that the bag was not there in that 2 bed room flat.
Suddenly, Maharana shouted, "Iswara Sir..."
We two reacted, "Mane? (Means?)"
"Ki katha? Apana’nka kahara b mane nahin?(What? None of you recall?)" was his immediate reaction.
Biswanath under intoxication shouted, "Abe kana be? Abe katha kete ghurachu? Mada ru adhika nisa to karha ru lagilani ... (What man? Why you are twirling with words? Your words are more intoxicated than the sipped alcohol…)"
The guy continued, "Ki katha apana di Jana, kahara b mane nahin? Iswara Sir tank gaon Raikia gala belaku apana’nka bag magi thile je? Mane padila?(How come, both of you don’t recall? Iswara Sir borrowed that bag while visiting his village, Raikia?)"
"Yes...Yes..." we both nodded our heads.
Iswara Nayak, an Excise Inspector was staying on the same 4th floor, our neighbor. So we didn't waste time in making the family to wake up, though it was 11.00 pm. I needed to finish my packing for an early morning ride.
Immediately I wiped my tears and tried to control my sobbing and went close to my sister and despite her repeated rebuke to stay off, forcibly held her head and narrated the whole episode.
With the progress of my narration, my sister seemed to calm down a lot. I finished with, "Are jaha kahichi, sabu sata, jadi kahibu to munda chhuin rana b khai debi. (Whatever told are true, if you want then I can take oath of your head.)"
She hugged me tight and told sobbingly, "Mun b ta Maa ku seia kahu thili, gote kana bhul-bhal hei jaichi boli ... Kintu se b emiti kandi kandi kahila je, mun be to upare abiswasa kali re bhai ... (Even I was telling Mother about something must have gone wrong … But she told me crying so violently that even I had doubt on you …)"
My agony of getting a thrash was still haunting and I asked, “If father knows all these?”
She replied about their dilemma in disclosing to him and expressed her happiness for not doing so.
The very next question was how could the same was disclosed to the younger sisters who were too juniors. She confirmed about their knowing nothing.
We both wiped our faces and washed under the tap at the terrace. She left the terrace but I preferred to continue there.
After some fifteen minutes I went down and was about to close the door of my bed room that my mother shouted, "Are khaibuni ki? Bapa nka saha basi ja. (Will not you eat? Come and share table with your father.)"
[ There are a few episodes, recalling makes one have Goosebumps. It doesn’t matter whoever the writer is, any set of words can’t justify the emotions of the characters. Whatever fetched later is only a palm-full of the endless ocean of emotions.]