The Fire8 mins 297 8 mins 297
Sujata had to leave her two-year-old son at home with her aged mother, as she had no option. She had married Ritesh, after being in love for five years. They were class mates at the Calcutta University. After completing their studies, both had started applying for jobs. Sujata was lucky to get a job within two months. It was a government job with a very good salary. But Ritesh was not as fortunate. After a prolonged period of two years, he managed to get one, that too in a private organisation, with no security, or perquisites. Though it did not seem that he was in any way upset about his not being able to bag as good a job as Sujata, but it always hurt his ego, and rankled within. But there relationship continued as harmonious as ever, and there was no hurricane of jealousy to overturn their ship of matrimony, which had already set sail on their lifelong journey of commitment to each other. So one fine day they tied the knot.
It was a very happy day for the couple, when Sujata announced that she was going to be a mother. They celebrated by having dinner at Taj Bengal. But the same evening as they both retired to bed, very gently Ritesh told his wife, that she would have to leave her job and stop working, as bringing up a baby was a big responsibility, and needed full time commitment. But Sujata was adamant that she would not do as he requested. If he were so conscientious about the upbringing of their child, he should sit at home and look after the baby as his job was not as good as hers. So If he were so conscientious about the upbringing of their child, he should sit at home, and look after the baby, as his job was not as good as hers. So this was the trigger to set the deluge of disagreement, and acrimony between the two, to burst out in its worst cataclysm.
The tension grew intense, after Rob was born, so much so, in a riotous show of anger, Ritesh left the house, and informed Sujata, he wanted a divorce, as he could not tolerate living with a woman who would not comply with her husband’s wishes. Sujata did not try to stop the divorce because for her, her career meant a tremendous lot, and she would never give up, or give in. Every time she left home, the toddler would cling on to her, and kiss her all over, then plead with her, not to go to office, but to stay with him. Her heart would break, when she tried to disentangle his soft baby fingers from her hand, and rush out. She could not be late for office, as her boss was very strict about punctuality. As the office bus wended its way through the thick traffic, she realised with sharp poignancy, the truth in Ritesh’s words, “Motherhood was a full-time job” She could not block her ears to the pleading of the two year old, “Mummy, please don’t go.” She knew she could not concentrate on her work, for the baby’s voice kept on echoing and re-echoing in her ears.
At six in the evening, Sujata hurried home. It seemed the bus was moving at the pace of a bullock cart. She was becoming agitated and impatient .Her nails dug deep into her flesh, as she was getting more and more tensed up. But as she got down from the bus, she was horrified to see that the building in which she lived was in flames. Her one thought was that her baby was there in the building, with her aged mother, who would not be able to take out the child from the inferno. She rushed forward, only to be stopped by the ever-increasing crowd, which had gathered there, and what was most exasperating, the policemen had barricaded all entry. But she was not to be stalled, and with all her strength she tried to push her way through the milling crowd. Then the strong hand of an obnoxious policeman held her back, and shouted that he could not allow her to do such a foolish thing. She pleaded with him, and told him her son was inside .The police man then reprimanded her sternly and told her that for rescuing victims, the fire fighters were there. If she went in without her fire protective gear, she would be scorched to death. Sujata felt like biting his hands off to free herself from his venomous clutches, which prevented her from rushing to save her son.
The fire leapt up higher and higher. It was engulfing the whole building. Black smoke was billowing from the openings. There was the acrid smell of things getting charred. The whole edifice was crumbling, and walls and windows crashed to the ground, leaving a mass of smoldering ashes and debris. The fire crackled and whooshed. The faint outline of a little boy could be seen at the sixth floor window, screaming and shouting, terrorized and helpless, “Mummy come fast .Mummy it is so hot over here. Mummy, mummy! “Slowly the voice became faint, and as the minutes passed, it became fainter and fainter, and then could not be heard at all. Fear squeezed Sujata’s heart and she stood transfixed like a pale wax candle, looking up with horror as big flaming chunks fell with a booming, reverberating sound. She pressed her heart-- it seemed it had stopped beating.
The orange, yellow, and murky flames competed with each other in their mad frenzy to reach the sky. But when the inferno spread its tentacles like a hungry greedy monster, Sujata felt she could not endure the sight and the torment anymore. She knew she was going to have a blackout. As she flopped down on the rubble littered ground, in her last effort to save her child, she sent a message to Ritesh on his mobile, “Come and save Rob!” After that she lost consciousness.
When she next opened her eyes, she could not make out what was happening, as a crowd was obstructing her view. She only saw crimson and orange tongues of fire spurting out, like that of a dragon with a voracious hunger, from the window where she had last seen Rob. She imagined her baby screaming his lungs out, as he was getting roasted alive in the merciless fire, and charred to death. Her mother must have met the same fate. She could not even cry, her tears had all dried up with every drop of hope having been drained out. She staggered up, but felt she was not able to stand. The lady next to her steadied her on her feet. She tried to see whether she could spot either her mother or her son, but it was impossible to see anything through the black sooty smoke, gushing out like the nauseating breath of an aggressive demon.
All of a sudden about two feet from her, she saw a heaving, blackened creature, breathing noisily with exertion, depositing two limp bodies on the ground. With a shock she discovered that the figures resembled her mother and her baby, but they had been so much covered with soot, that she could not recognize them. The man was coughing incessantly with the acrid smoke which had filled his lungs, making his breathing difficult. His eyes were blood shot and smarting with the smoke, and there were blisters and gaping wounds all over his body, giving him a sinister look. Her heart almost stopped, when all of a sudden she identified him as no other, than Rob’s father. How he managed to get in to the building to rescue his son, she had no idea, but the fact remained, that if it had not been for him, the child could not have been saved. Ritesh went up in her estimation, seeing his courage, and capability. She realized that a single mother could never fulfill all the needs of her child, even with the best intentions. She approached Ritesh, before it was too late, like a humble penitent mother, and wife, asked him to come back to her. She told him that she could give up her career, but not a wonderful husband like Ritesh. But she knew that the urgent need of the moment was to revive her child and her mother, and administer first Aid on Ritesh, as he was badly scorched.
As days passed, Ritesh, Rob and Sujata’s mother, all got back their strength with Sujata’s care and affection. Oddly, no one missed their old flat .Once more a warm happy home in a posh sophisticated locality came up, where all the family members were bound together very closely. They had nearly lost each other, and therefore they had realized fully each other’s worth. Ritesh insisted that Sujata should continue with her career, as he had become more understanding as a husband. He himself gave up his job, and started his own business, in which he could work from home. The little fellow would run into his office every now and then, give him a hug, and run off to play with his grandma. For Sujata and Ritesh, their cup of happiness was full!