Wednesday, 21 February 2018

In Too Deep - Write...Edit...Publish...February 2018




Hello WEP-ers!

Welcome to the first post for 2018 for Write...Edit...Publish... which has a groovy updated look, super awesome! I love it. 

I'm here with an excerpt from a long story called ‘A Postcard from the Village.’ Not exactly a Valentine's story, I'm afraid. Not romantic love, but it celebrates sisterhood and camaraderie between women and the triumph of the human spirit over conflicts born of narrowmindedness. (Btw, 21st Feb has a great significance in Bangladesh, and also the wider Bengali culture. The day has been recognised by the UN as the International Mother Language Day. In a way this story is also a tribute.)

The setting is September 1946, in undivided Bengal in the run up to the Partition the following year. In 1947, as India won her Independence, Bengal was divided into a Hindu majority West Bengal, and East Bengal became Muslim majority East Pakistan, later Bangladesh. That year – 1946, was a year of deep and bitter, bloody religious conflict in Bengal. Countless people from both communities were killed. The story itself is of course fictional but it's based on a terribly real history.

Sukhada, a Hindu woman living in Calcutta, West Bengal, receives a postcard from her pregnant sister-in-law, from Sukhada’s ancestral home in East Bengal.  In it is the news that all the menfolk have been killed by rioters, and her mother has died from the shock. The SIL is being sheltered by a kindhearted Muslim woman who is also at risk of being murdered if it becomes known she is helping someone of the other faith. Sukhada appeals to the head of the family to let her visit her sister-in-law. But her Uncle-in-law refuses permission. Sukhada then decides to run away, return to her parental home to her sister-in-law. This is what happens upon her arrival.


A Postcard from the Village  


The stench was overpowering.  The smell of charred earth flapped like a wet rag against her senses, suffocating, dreadful.  The paddies had only scorched stumps left.  The thatched cottages had been reduced to ruined mounds. The trees stood stripped of leaves, branches blackened and deformed, clawing the sky, strangely skeleton-like.  Sukhada suddenly came upon a half-burnt forearm stuck in the charred lower undergrowth, the flesh bloated, horribly mottled in pink and black, crawling with flies.  Battling nausea, she clapped a handful of her saree over her nose and quickened her steps. 

Her ancestral home was one of three brick and mortar buildings in the village, the others being the post office and the school.  It was a rambling residence, generations had added a wing here, a room there, modified it to suit them over the centuries. 

It was shaped loosely like an E, the three bars of the letter forming the three main wings.  The outer wing facing the main gate housed the sitting rooms, one large for the men’s use every evening, and a more intimate family room.  There was also a small schoolroom for the children and another one that served as an office. The middle wing was mostly bedrooms, a day room given over for the women’s use, the central one a small shrine.  The last wing comprised servants’ rooms and the bathrooms.  The spine of the E were the kitchens – vegetarian and non-vegetarian strictly segregated, the store rooms, another with the paddy-mill.  Tucked between the women’s wing and baths, was the small ante-room used by generations for music. The entire house had deep, wrap-around verandas, so that all rooms were accessible from the verandas as well as from each other. 

Sukhada stopped where the main gate had been, and looked at what remained.  The entry gaped open, the walls were charred black, a heap of burnt rubble.  The graceful louvered windows had been reduced to cinders along with their frames, the terrible heat had distorted the wrought iron bars before they had worked loose and fallen in a tangle of metal.  Sukhada’s head swam as she recalled the postcard.

'They were more than fifty strong, armed with machetes and torches.  They dragged the menfolk out.  Our esteemed mother protested, and was shoved back.  She fell and stayed motionless.  They went through all the rooms, helped themselves to what they wanted.  I hid behind the sitar, huddled under the dust-cloth and recited the Durganaam, thinking if the Goddess wishes my baby to be born She will let me complete the chants.  The house became quiet presently. I went to our mother and called her but she made no answer. 

I found Moga outside, she has brought me with her, I am writing from her home, but it is not a secure position.  I lit the pyre for our mother as there were no other males present, the priest said no sin would attach to me and more importantly, affect the little one.  I am much dispirited, Sister.'

Room after room lay in ruins, furniture reduced to kindling, cherished items made worthless, dust and ashes. Sukhada felt a terrifying hand squeeze her heart in a constricting grip.  What had happened after the postcard was written? Was the letter-writer safe when the burning was going on?

Her grandmother’s elegantly carved rosewood four-poster lay in a brutally burnt heap, the exquisite scrolled carving of vines against the raw grain of the split wood like an obscene wound.  She could not bear to look, yet she could not tear her eyes away from the destruction, hypnotised by the horror. 

In her brother’s bedroom, someone had brought out the old rocking horse and given it a fresh coat of paint.  The mob had decapitated it, and she stumbled over the mutilated, partly scorched head, the blackened mouth had been split open in a ghastly travesty of a grin, parts of the remaining gaily-painted red harness seemed like oozing blood. She ran along the veranda with her heart thudding.

She paused at the threshold of the music room, it too had not escaped.  The doors had been taken off their hinges with blows that had cleaved the frame, the windows looked out onto the veranda black and hollow like the empty eye sockets of a skull. Sukhada felt dizzy, all her fears heightened to a crescendo of panic.  She stepped over the doorsill.

The mindless destruction had left its evidence all around the walls here as well.  A collection of flutes that had hung in a case had been torn off and set alight.  The drums and harmonium were similarly defaced and burnt.  Sukhada walked, astonished, towards the centre where a small but exquisitely made carpet was laid.  She recalled many hours sitting on it practising, strumming the sitar.  The instrument was still there, its dustcover disturbed, bunched up over the neck.  The full, round gourd rested on the carpet exposed, but intact. 


It sat on the carpet unscathed as though on an island untouched by the ocean of wreckage around it.  She sat down beside the sitar and picked it up.  The strings came alive at her touch and she drew the few first notes of a favourite raga in unpractised fingers.  She had not played in a long time, the instrument was not tuned, but still the strings felt warm and quivery under her hand, eager to lighten the weight in her heart, to resonate with her grief.  She laid her head upon its neck and finally abandoned herself to uncontrollable weeping.

~~~

WC -924
FCA


Read the other entries here: 

49 comments:

  1. Such a sad, tragic story, so much pain and destruction. Why do people do it to each other, year after year, century after century? Will they ever stop?
    I wonder: did Sukhada find her sister-in-law? Did they both escape? I hope so, for both their sake.

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    1. Yes, she did, but the lady didn't make it back sadly. The Partition killed millions of people and the then-authorities let it happen without putting any preventive measures in place...one of the ugliest mass killings of the 20th century but remains under-acknowledged.

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  2. A story based in 1946 but that could have happened yesterday. I'm with Olga, why? Maybe if our Computers and TV's were filled with the horrors more folks would see the need to intervene - solve the problem, and not with more guns but with 'real' solutions. Instead the airwaves are filled with gossip, who's dating whom, who broke up with whom? Sorry, I seem to be on a soap box again.
    You wrote beautifully. I was there, discovering with Sukhada, the horror that was her beautiful home. I hope she found peace and her sister-in-law.

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    1. But our screens are filled with horrors even now! That's what baffles me, why do we let it happen, why we don't learn anything from our history. The 20th was the bloodiest century ever, and while we may never again kill each other off in such numbers, we are doing nothing about the hate and the mass production of weaponry.

      She found her SIL. But peace? I dunno about that...

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  3. Wow. Your descriptions are so vivid it's like you managed to transport me there, and the emotions conveyed here are so overwhelming. It's a tale of horror beautifully told.

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    1. Thank you. It was indeed a terrible time. I grew up listening to eye-witness accounts of the Partition horrors from my father's and grandfather's generation.

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  4. Such vivid, haunting descriptions. You captured the ugliness of war quite well. Well painted with words and emotions.

    Such sadness.

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    1. Thanks Donna...this wasn't a real war... religious intolerance based internal conflict, possibly even uglier than war.

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  5. Partition often leads to conflict which wouldn't exist otherwise. So sad. I need to come back later and reread.

    Denise

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    1. Especially when the authorities just stand by and tacitly encourage the violence...

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  6. I personally believe that civilization's advancement and our need to be autonomy have made us forget to respect life and see it as a special treasure that no one can give back. It is sad and it should make us want to stand up and say no more. Unfortunately, we have fallen into a certain stupor that makes us happy that it is not us.
    Very touching, Nilanjana Bose, and heart-wrenching.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

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    1. Agree that it's a lack of respect for life. That and the inability to see beyond the superficial differences, the skin-deep thinking that categorises people as us and them. It's a shame.

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  7. hate and destruction "for the cause" is so ridiculous. Excellent writing and such a sorrowful tale. The sitar survival is the one stem of life - mournful strings stir memories.

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    1. Ya, altogether quite incomprehensible now looking back at the events. India's struggle for freedom is portrayed as a model of 'non-violence' but there was a very violent side to it too. Millions of people paid the price.

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  8. Your story actually brought out the horror of the Bengal partition. But I don't understand, why did they leave the Sitar untouched when the other instruments in the room were damaged? Is there something I'm missing?

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    1. No, you're not. The mob didn't come into the room, somebody just destroyed whatever was next to the door and moved on.

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  9. A tragic tale about the dangerous power hate can have on even the smallest things. A great if not sorrowful story.

    from:christopherscottauthor.wordpress.com

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  10. I am always repulsed by mob violence and it is hard to understand. It is true insanity.

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    1. Very easy to stir up. Very difficult to undo. Insanity is just what it was.

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  12. Tears run down the neck
    For loved ones were dead
    Yet the world stood watching
    And not a tear was shed

    Kill all that don’t think like you do
    For only your ideas are true
    And when the last one is standing
    What good has it done you

    you don't have to love your fellow man
    but for Humanity sake learn to tolerate him

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    1. Thank you for commenting in verse, I love that! and ya, all we have to do is to agree to disagree...how is that so difficult??

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  13. Awful that such acts still go on almost 80 years later. Just seeing it and having such thoughts linger to the past would be awful, but living it...Great story.

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    1. Altogether too much violence around for me...I like things a bit quieter.

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  14. I absolutely promise I'll return to read this when I have more time!

    The only reason I'm commenting at all today is to say that I can't believe you know Peter Sarstedt's "Where Do You Go To My Lovely!" During the early and mid-1970s, my friend Wayne and I used to drive around, listening to that (and many other songs) on a cassette tape he'd recorded at home! I thought no one else remembered it!

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    1. :)

      I'm a fan of old music as you know, and many of my favourites are from the 60's and 70's, some even earlier. I can't remember where I first heard Sarstedt though, too young to form any musical taste when he sang it, but must have been introduced to it later, either by a friend or by a cousin... :)

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    2. Terrific story. It's so awful to proceed through wreckage like that, discovering various heartbreaks and horrors as you go. Well done, very well done!

      By the way, I did some research on Peter Sarstedt last night. He died just over a year ago. Interestingly coincidental to your story is the fact that Sarstedt lived in England from the age of twelve or so on, but he was born to British parents who lived and worked... in India.

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    3. Ya, he was born in Delhi during British rule and he went to school in my home state of West Bengal in the 50's I think. He'd have a more than average slice of fans in India because of that probably - I am certainly one of them!

      Thanks for reading the story and your feedback.

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  15. Very detailed and sad, the destruction caused by opposing forces in the name of religion or for political gain. Many together with the intent of destruction is mob frenzy, and little can be done to prevent it. I do hope the sister is still safe. You've made me think about the survivors of other atrocities. Well done.

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    1. Respectfully disagree DG, a few things can be done to prevent the violence in a volatile situation if the rulers are alert...stirring it up by divisive rhetoric and/or total inaction is the first clueless thing to do, just my view.

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  16. What a sad and beautiful story. Hate is so useless and destructive. Thank you for sharing this story.

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    1. Destructive indeed - can't build anything with it... it's a pretty useless philosophy.

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  17. How exquisite your prose is - despite the gruesome times it captures, I couldn't resist the temptation to read on and on. It's particularly relevant now when the Rohingyas are suffering so much although they are so impoverished they wouldn't have had such homes to lose. Absolutely fabulous writing Nila. It's always such a pleasure to visit your blog.

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    1. Home is a home, doesn't really matter how well or poorly it is built, always terrible to be forced from it. Too many refugees around then and again now, it's heart breaking.

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  18. Nilanjana. You portrayed that horrific picture with your words. And we know what our people had to see in that partition phase. It still lingers on our head. Partition!! I mean, why could we not live undivided? It is only through those little captures that we come to know about those stories. Beyond imagination the actual horror. Thanks for sharing the piece.

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    1. The division was perhaps inevitable given the political situation then, if one side wants it, then it's pointless to force them to live together..but the violence was unnecessary and preventable.

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  19. Through your perfectly crafted words I couldn't help but feel her pain and sense of hopelessness. Will things ever change? Beautifully done.

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    1. The world is still mired in violence...though not on the same scale, it is disheartening sometimes.

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  20. A very strong and emotive piece, I didn't know that history - the atrocities humans do to each other is something I will never understand.

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    1. It's colonial history, doesn't get told often outside the spaces that were colonised. Some humans have done and continue to do unspeakable things to each other on pretty flimsy pretexts...

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  21. Beautifully crafted, Nila. I like that it is based on historical facts. There are important stories in human history untold or'under-told.' Partitioning is one of those significant slices of history. Makes it all the more poignant. Your skill as a poet also shows in this lovely piece of prose. Well done:)

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    1. Thank you Adura. That means a lot. As you rightly say, there are many stories which are 'undertold,' the colonised skirt around it as if they are the ones at fault! And how we heal if we don't speak I have not the foggiest!

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  22. Wow, I could feel the powerful emotion as she went through the wreckage and when she strummed the sitar and broke down in tears. It deeply saddens me that this world still has so many violent people who continue to destroy everyone and everything in their paths.

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    1. Too much violence around - then and now! thanks for your feedback.

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  23. Wow. This is a really powerful story. Excellent work here. Love the descriptions. I can feel the pain, the horror.

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  24. Hi Nila - I started reading and then realised I need time to read the post properly. These times of your Partition, now the burnings in Myanmar, the harrassing to refugees - the world is cruel ... and so sad to see, if one is courageous enough or able enough, and to find out what happened. I can't imagine how we could have done these things, or now - others can do these things ... excellent telling and I can smell the charred waste of life, the loss, the burnt wood ... so desperate - Hilary

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    1. Thanks for reading Hilary. Those were desperate times, and the cruelty goes on in different forms still.

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