In our very first edition of East India Story, septuagenarian Purabi Sen had narrated an incident from her childhood in Assam. Here, we continue to build a book on her Assam stories
“Hello! Are you listening? Please come here right now. It’s very important for you to know right now!”
My father was throwing these words at my mother in his normal, cop-like husky voice.
My mother came almost running to listen to what my father was almost commanding about!
So my Dad specified in detail about a vial of a lotion-type of medicine he had bought from chemist to be kept away from children, as it was a very strong, poisonous liquid meant for his lingering sciatica pain from which he was suffering since the last few days.
My mother nodded and my father left for office.
It was the morning of a busy working day.
I, a child of only five years then,was waiting for my father to leave for office, so that I would get the chance to be fully active with so many naughty plans up my sleeves to be accomplished with my two little cute sisters as my blind followers.
Also Read: A Cop, Two Monks And Devotion in Karimganj
So having hurriedly finished my studies, I was up with the self-assigned game plans of mine with my middle sister tagging along in all my naughty deeds.
First, my mother was nowhere in sight, busy as she was in the Puja room with the preparation of a special periodical puja.
Then, my cousin, quite older to me, got stuck with the home tutor, and the house appeared to be a peace zone to kick start my day truants that sunny morning!
That fateful morning, and my toddler sister and I tiptoed into the bedroom of my parents.
Being the elder of the two, it would be my right to find the pickles, biscuits, powder milk, Horlicks or anything like munching or licking that my mother usually forgets to leave on the table adjacent to my father’s cot!
But no luck! So we two sisters settled ourselves on the bed with long faces and were contemplating what could be done with so much time in our hands.
Suddenly something new caught my eyes: a small vial of watery medicine on the table itself , which I took for some sweet homeopathic drops.
And without any delay I wanted to bring it down to taste. But me being the eldest how could I take it before giving it to my beloved little sis!
So I poured a good part of it in the small medicine glass my father used, and helped my sister to gulp it down first and waited for my turn.
But alas! Just after gulping the medicine, my sister was in such a pathetic condition that she could hardly utter“Ma “and collapsed on the floor!
On seeing this , I could not believe my eyes and an uncertain fear gripped me so miserably that somehow I could shout: “Ma, please come fast. I gave some medicine to Karabi and she has thrown up and collapsed, and she is not even answering my call.”
I could hear my mother coming out running from the puja room and cry out: “Oh God! What have you done to her? What medicine did you make her swallow? Oh my poor child!
Mother took charge of Karabi, and putting my sister on her lap, she started calling out in an extremely fear-stricken, tearful voice : “Swadesh (my cousin’s home tutor) please come and save my daughter”
Those words still ring in my ears and tears well up in my eyes.
Mother was so very shocked that she dragged me out to her arms and started planting kisses on my forehead, thanking God that no other calamity had befallen me. I was still apprehensive about what father would say. But mother was such a superb soul that she hid everything from my father!
Very soon, Swadesh Sir came instantly to my mother’s rescue and advised her to provide him with some tamarind and a handful of salt from the kitchen.
Mother hurriedly collected these two things from the kitchen and gave them to Swadesh Sir.
By then, while Swadesh Sir was pushing down the tamarind and salt down my sister’s throat, Mother decided to check what ‘medicine’I had given my sister.
Then she found the medicine was nothing but an empty vial of toxic pain lotion which my father had told her to keep away from the kids, but she had forgotten!
She realised her unintended lapse for which she was to pay the costliest price that a mother shudders even to think of.
Immediately, she rushed to the Puja room and started sobbing and praying aloud that she would not break her fast till her child got back to her senses!
Now, she came back to the spot to see if Swadesh Sir could make any progress in making my sister vomit the stuff from her stomach…
Yes! There was a small ray of hope that some foamy substances were coming out from her mouth.
Although she wasn’t responding to my mother’s call, Sir was assured that my sister would be alright in a few hours and she be put her to sleep undisturbed.
Now, fearing mother’s wrath, I darted out of my house to the main road and kept running, till I reached a distant relative who I called grandma, who was settled in the refugee camp where she and her three daughters had come after partition from the then East Pakistan.
Here, I ought to mention that this anecdote of my life is from the short stint of my father, a police officer, in Karimganj, a beautiful town of South Assam.
So, on seeing me running barefoot, my indulgent grandma started weeping, presuming some tragedy had befallen my family.
I remember that I told her everything. I pleaded with her to take home or else mother would beat me black and blue!
Grandma instantly took me along in a rickshaw to my house in the Police Complex.
By the time we reached, my mother had panicked on not finding me at home.
“Purabi, where are you, Ma? Come out. Don’t hide. It was my fault, Ma. I will not beat you or and tell your father about this!”
But I was still in trepidation, and hid myself behind a door.
Then grandma narrated how I had run to her barefoot.
Mother was so very shocked that she dragged me out to her arms and started planting kisses on my forehead, thanking God that no other calamity had befallen me.
I was still apprehensive about what father would say.
But mother was such a superb soul that she hid everything from my father!
But that evening, we failed on one count: we three sisters were not around to get a share each from his evening snacks father always had on returning from office.
On his enquiring about Karabi’s absence, my mother informed him that she had had a sudden bout of dysentery that day, and the doctor had told her to be strict with her diet.
My father did not pester her any more.
That night my mother , still on fast since morning and with me tagging along her all the time , around midnight, heard a feeble voice: “Maa, I feel hungry”.
That was Karabi.
Mother went running to hug her tightly to her chest, comforting her,saying that the food was ready to be served right then.
She was served a small bowl of porridge.
The next day, the family doctor was called after my father left for office, and prescribed the right course of treatment for my sister.
She took a couple of weeks to completely recover,but my father remained ignorant about what had happened, thanks to my mother’s wisdom and a home maker’s natural managerial skills.
My mother is no more, but I still feel so very thankful to my cousin’s home tutor Swadesh Aditya Sir for the timely help he extended to bring back my sister to life from that terrible situation.
This anecdote I love to share as it has a strong message that one can never feel relaxed with the children under some circumstances where a spark neglected might burn the house!
A little mistake might cost a fortune of losing these little cute ‘devils’ too!
*EDITOR’S NOTE: With this edition, we have started to fashion Purabi Sen’s writings in the manner of Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”, and we will call it “The Karimganj Diaries”. Cheers, readers!
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Septuagenarian Purabi Sen, a retired Central Government employee from Shillong, (Meghalaya) now settled in Bangalore, has been passionate about penning poems, stories “or anything that catches my fancy”, as she says. Many of her creations were published in Bengali or English in different Durga Puja journals or magazines. Her book of Bengali poems, 'Orchid', was launched in 1997 from Kolkata Book fair.