The Land Beyond
The Land Beyond3 mins 12.8K 3 mins 12.8K
Sweta was grandfather’s only listener. All his children and grandchildren had grown sick and tired of his misty-eyed tales. But he never got tired of recounting them. And even though Sweta almost had them memorised, she was never tired of hearing them again.
His stories always, invariably, followed the same sequence. Growing up in a land interspersed with canals, lakes and rivers. The spontaneous way he’d learnt to swim, to row and to fish. The open sky and green fields he’d grown up loving. The occasional trips to the crowded bazaars for a sweet to treat his taste buds, the cool and refreshing coconut water during summers and the wild frenzy he and his friends kicked up during the cool autumn evenings to listen to music once the gramophone came home.
Grandfather had once had a beautiful voice. His songs had once been the pride of the family and had been lauded by friends and foes alike. He couldn’t sing anymore, his voice always cracked when he tried to. But that did not deter him in the least. He often tried to sing the tunes he had heard in his childhood, songs by Manna Dey, Shyamal Mitra but most of all, Manabendra Mukhopadhyay. Sweta had never heard of these artists from anybody but her grandfather.
Grandmother often complained that he exaggerated, that the land of his youth was not quite as vibrant as he put forward. It was just a village, beautiful in its own way, but still not unique. It was much like villages in India. Grandfather argued that a place did not become vibrant by virtue of natural beauty. His homeland was beautiful to him because it had raised and nurtured him. And Sweta believed him. But alongside all these joyous memories of attending school, there were ghastly incidents as well.
The frequent waves of cholera that had robbed him of his father and his youngest brother, the deadly storms and floods that washed away whole villages and destroyed property to such an extent that even the most affluent could be reduced to paupers – these were some of the moments he had dreaded the most. But none of these had been as gruesome as the partition. That was the one part of the story that Grandfather could not bring himself to describe.
Sweta had never dared to ask him why but her brother thought that it was because it would be like reopening forgotten wounds for him. Sweta personally thought that he wouldn’t be able to bear the shock in her eyes when he described how they had been forced to flee with their lives at stake. She had heard some stories from her classmates but never a word from her grandfather.
Sweta often asked Grandfather if their house was still standing by the riverside. Grandfather sighed and replied that he didn’t know. Sweta believed that it was still standing by the riverbank, preserving the wonderful moments Grandfather had left behind. She believed that every time he recounted his childhood for her, far away, in the land crisscrossed with canals and moats, in a shabby little cottage in Barisal, his words found an echo.