(Artwork by Ashwin Pandya)
It was the December after Monal turned six. There was excitement. There was war. The newspaper “Amrita Bazar Patrika” was eagerly awaited everyday.
Monal of six in her little mind understood that there was trouble over her mother tongue Bangla. During the cold winter nights, sharp at 8 pm a siren was sounded. She learnt a new word and heard what it felt like too. All lights had to be put out in all homes. That is what it meant. To Monal it was fun but not entirely. She felt a tinge of guilt not even knowing why. Perhaps she was growing up a bit fast and not even aware of it then.
Some parents, very serious about their children’s educational pursuits took special trouble to line their window panes in a way that light would not escape. Monal felt sad for the kids of these dedicated parents but in this case she clearly knew why.
Then Monal chanced upon whispered adult conversations about a certain family that lived at the end of the road. Someone said to someone that they were spies for Pakistan. For some the doubts sprang from the fact that the Uncle ( that is how the children referred to all adult males) constantly walked up and down the street during the blackout. It was a family of three, soon to become four. After a pretty little girl was born to them they went away to Kashmir.
Monal was worried that they had heard what was being said about them and so went away heartbroken. But while she loved the little boy of the family who was littler she could not help but wonder if they were really a threat to her safety. Monal learnt to live with suspicion for the first time. However in years to come the family was remembered in Monal’s household as one ( the Aunty, that is how all adult females were addressed) that gave Monal’s Mamma the recipe to make lip smacking Rogan Josh an aromatically spiced red coloured mutton dish from their geographical region of origin. Monal also realised that people become memories without dying.
Short Stories by Sushmita Gupta