Why should I be afraid?

I was born during the great agitation of 1984
Why should I be afraid?
Why should I be afraid?
In our village dispensary
Where my grandfather died of diplegia
And the loss of memory.
My father was a rebel they say,
He had gone hiding on that day
For our so called democratic government
Was trying to suppress our just voices
In their own meanest way.
I did not see my father’s face,
His black and white picture
In the family album is all what I know of him.
Though they say my eyes resemble my mother,
I did look like him with long eye lashes, bulging chin,
Muscular limbs and broad shoulder.
Of my mother too I have a vague memory,
The warmth of her love hardly relished my soul
She too went away when I was just a toddler.
The old, sick grandma was all there for me
Who worked so hard to feed my hunger
For hours in the nearby Tea factory.

I spent most of my childhood all alone
Playing outside our tin roofed house
Watching the distant snow clad mountain,
And envying the freedom of the swallows
Flying aimlessly into the pure air
While the silence of the mountain was broken
By the whistle of our ages old toy train.

I did go to the school; our village primary school
Where everything, even the English was taught in vernacular.
And though the students were less and teacher the more
No motes of education touched me there.
Other than for studies,
My school was of great importance,
People used to gather now and then, when
The long boring speeches were delivered there.
And the next day when school reopened
Hours it took for us to clean the class rooms
And collect papers of strange symbols lying everywhere.
I heard them saying one day,
‘Preserve our language and promote the culture.’
But in truth their own words meant nothing to them
For their sons and daughters were enrolled
In English medium schools far-far away.

I learnt less in the school
And more from my grandmother at home.
Though she knew not how to read and write
She showered me with the overflowing wisdom
Of Ramayana and Mahabharata every night.

But one day she too went away to the fairy land
Now leaving me all alone.
They found her sleeping in the nearby tea garden
With ‘doko’ and ‘namlo’ by her side.
That was the first and the last time fear touched
My deepest being for I was too afraid
And confused to tread the road ahead.

It was when she passed away that I realized
My house had nothing but a rusty trunk,
Containing a ‘Maadal’,a ‘Sirupate Khukuri’,
Red ‘Chaubandi-Cholo’neatly muffling a‘poteah,’
A box of ‘Sindoor,’ ‘Jhumka’ and a‘Bulaki.’

Seeing these things, at once I broke down,
My instincts told me to whom they once belonged.
Trembling hands I ran through the ‘Khukuri' and Maadal,’
And the ‘Chaubandi- Cholo’ that smelt strange yet so familiar,
Punctured my eyes with abounding tears.

The dusty photo album
I opened with haste
Longing for the motherly love.
But there I saw my father’s face
And recalled the words grandmother once said,
“You are a martyr’s son,
A rebel’s blood flows into your veins;
Your father denied all forms of slavery and died fighting
Don’t you ever be afraid!”

I guess I was just thirteen at that time
But I refused to live on other’s charity.
I chose to help myself and forge ahead
And to live a life of dignity.

Three long years I worked in a novitiate,
Where there were no signs of God but of the priests.
They speak of Love and Forgiveness
Which they themselves never practice.
Pity I felt for those poor novices
They pay the costliest price,
Pushed in these places when in their teens
Crushing their youth in the name of God’s service.
And suppressing the greatest of all longings,
The desire to touch and to be touched,
The courage to question the unknown,
The freedom of thinking.

Just like God cannot be found in church alone
So does my stomach can be fed somewhere else!
I chose not to be just another sheep among the herd
And decided to leave the novitiate.

The road was long for a young boy to walk alone,
But I wanted to smell the flowers on my way.
I too could have been another labour in the village tea factory
Selling my youth to the bourgeois working night and day.
But I was determined to see beyond the horizon
So I took; yes I took the unknown road instead!
I am a martyr’s son; my father denied all forms of slavery
And died fighting, why should I be afraid?

I went to Delhi in search of work
But it was quite different to what I have thought.
There the people were more yet everyone alone,
Though sky high buildings were built with colourful lights,
Far better was my village’s tin-roofed home.
Luxurious cars moved on the streets
Where people were dying of hunger.
Humanity was unclothed in their very eyes
Yet no one seemed to bother.
These cars were heading to the same place,
Where people cannot see, cannot feel,
To the place of sleep walkers walking faceless,
The city where the hypocrites dwell.

I worked in apartments as a security guard
And to my surprise I found many of my home folks there;
Vibrant with life, full of dreams in their heart.
They must have left their homes hoping to live a better life,
Grinding their ripened youth working overtime;
But who is there to tell them that it’s the city of sleepwalkers
And they must not strive?

My time there did not last for more than few months,
At last I had to give him what he deserved.
I still remember his name, my boss, Mr Singh,
Who was more like an animal and less a human being.
He never called me by my name but ‘Bahadur,’
Though many times I told him it was not.
At last I had to tell him what ‘Bahadur’ actually meant
Though it was too late for him to learn.
It was one night when as usual he came drunk,
And shouted, ‘Hey Bahadur, come here and speak.’
He abused me for so long and I could not resist,
I broke his nose and said,
‘I am a martyr’s son; my father denied all forms of slavery
And died fighting, why should I be afraid?’

I went back to the village, my sweet home,
But there I saw nothing the same.
Tea factory was burnt down to ashes
And our people were dying in hunger and pain.
Fathers were shot dead making hundreds of orphans again,
Our women were raped by the ugly, tall dark,
Government appointed army men.
Schools and colleges were shut down,
Youths were mercilessly beaten
And were taken somewhere.
Shops were looted, buildings were destroyed,
There was nothing but complete chaos everywhere.

But we fought with all our strength
Against the dictatorial government.
Surely it would have been our victory
Had not our leaders sold their dignity.
When victory was in the air,
And our long awaited destiny was so near,
Our leaders sold the dreams of our ancestors
And turned out to be the greatest betrayers.

It was an insult to my father’s soul, an injustice
To our people who faced so much of pain.
How can I let the sacrifice of our martyrs
And their long standing dream to simply go in vain?
I must fight against these traitors with all might!
I am a martyr’s son; my father denied all forms of slavery
And died fighting, why should I be afraid?

I roared like a wounded lion in front of these traitors
Unveiling their hypocrisy…
“Our demand has become a joke now
Making the whole world laugh at us.
If you cannot fight till the end
Then why you created so much chaos?
You had the gun but ours was the shoulder,
Judas too must have laughed at you,
You are the greatest of all betrayers.
Our women were raped, fathers were shot dead,
Where were you hiding at that time?
Many lost their families and died in hunger
Can you bring them back again?
I have seen my brothers and sisters abused in public
Have you ever tried to hear their cry?
They flock towards the unknown cities
Have you ever wondered why?
Your sons and daughters must have been
Engineers and Doctors,
Who cares about our schools and colleges?
Who cares about potters and vendors in the street?
Let the roads be blocked and shutters are down.
Who cares about musicians and sportsmen?
Who cares about artists and writers?
Let them find opportunities on their own.
Who cares whether Tea factories function or not?
Who cares if labours and their families sleep empty stomach?
Who cares if roads are damaged?
Who cares if people are deprived of drinking water?
Who cares if only hospitals are there but no doctor?
Who cares…”

I could not finish my speech,
Something so badly struck my head.
I saw one of my brothers running with the ‘khukuri,’
He must have done what he is been said.
I may not finish narrating my life
In a moment or so I will be dead.
But now I am too dying fighting like my father,
Why should I be afraid? Why should I be afraid???

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