The Gong!4 mins 125 4 mins 125
Jhinuk kept tossing on her bamboo mat. It was past midnight. The air outside was laden with moisture. The sky was tossed with grey clouds. There seemed to be a strange stillness about the night. Even the random wisp of cold air could not dispel the looming gloom nestling outside. It was October; the season of Autumn, supposedly pleasant, but it was different this time with the parched sky and humid atmosphere. Jhinuk kept batting her eyelids’ cacophony of the crickets behind the hedges, adjacent to her humble hut, further added to her sleeping woes. She had enough. She sprung up and sat upright; her eyes pierced through the slowly drifting darkness outside. Her slight agitation awoke her elder sister Mitul, who was lying beside her. “What on earth do you think you are doing?” She looked furtively at Jhinuk with disdain. “I am not a mean soul like you who roams about free, having nothing to do. I have umpteen chores to do every day, once the sun rises on the horizon. At least, give me some respite at night.” “Will you?” She chided her younger sister for disrupting her precious siesta at such an odd hour and huddled up once again. Jhinuk, still unfazed at her sister’s predicament, climbed out of her tiny space and walked towards the door that opened to their courtyard. She stood there for a while, as if bemused, and then slowly pushed it ajar and went out in the open. The thought of having to stay back at home for an autumnal school break was eroding her tender heart.
She cannot come to terms with it. “Why does the school need to close for a week for Durga Puja?” This thought agonized her innocent mind. Her mind refused to believe that unlike her morbid thoughts, there was a surge of excitement surrounding the spirit of Durga Puja among most of the people in her village. It posed such a stark contrast to her sullen mood. Nobody could read her mind. No one can fathom the pain she was going through, but a few of her friends in the neighborhood would miss school so much. More than that, she would miss the sound of her school gong which would abuzz at a fixed time in her school every day. The gnawing sound of the gong was actually a symphony to Jhinuk ’s ears, and she would desperately wait for it to the bell, as it meant mealtime for her and the other children in her school. She would fondly wait in the long queue to get her share of rice, lentil soup and vegetable curry that the school provided to them. Jhinuk would lap it up all till the last bite and come back home happily with a full tummy and sleep tightly at night. This was her daily routine. She hardly missed a single day in school. She even trotted her way to school on days when it showered incessantly and when she did not feel well and was all groggy with fever.
How could she afford to go empty stomach or munch on puffed rice and jaggery during the day? And at nights, she along with her sister and mother, would drink a glass of water and call it nights. That was her life, she lived each day. Her father did not have the means to fend his family of four a square meal. They were so terribly poor. So, her school was just a place to earn her a meal, more than anything else to her, and she looked forward to it each day.
It was a solace to mull over such soothing thoughts as it kept sauntering in her mind, felt Jhinuk She tried to flash a smile, but looked up wryly at the blemished sky and uttered earnestly, “Maa, Maa Durga, please bring some rice for me this time when you come here.” The words wafted away in utter darkness. Tears started rolling down Jhinuk ‘s distraught face as she silently looked on to the uncertain days that lay before her.