Canvas of Misery
Time is a canvas, painted with laughter and misery at the same time, only in different places. Young Rashid would never have known that if he hadn't gone out to Satragachi on the day before Durga puja.
You see Kolkata was bustling with people, all fueled with a fatal form of enthusiasm for idols that would be coming to the numerous well constructed temples throughout the city, made of bamboo shoots and red linen fabrics, concocted together to weave temporary houses for the idols of Maa Durga. This houses survived only for five days and were called pandals, blocked the way for cars, leaving open only small roadways that lead to a labyrinth of small huts in the slum area near Satragachi, as if it was a vein coursing through the periphery of the city.
Rashid hurried through it all till he reached a shop at the end of the street. In a particularly dark corner, where shady people resided and unsavory business was conducted on a daily basis, there existed Harihar mosai's tea shop. Harihar had passed away several years ago, leaving his son Hiran with his only inheritance, one that Hiran took very lightly. His youth wasted away on a shop only added to his misery of feeding three younger sisters with no father or mother. They barely got by each passing day but that was enough for them. In a world where no one would care for them, they were content with the fact that they could see the sun rise everyday.
' Bhai jaan, please spare some roti for my Abba Jan, he needs it terribly' said Rashid.
Hiran sees the boy, sweating profusely. He asks how many, when Abdul Rashid, a pimp in the slum who sold his women with intimidation from the corner of the lamp post shouted, ' Don't you dare give him anything. That boy's father will break his Ramzan and it is a sin. You dare not do a sin boy. Or we will shed blood before vermillion is shed on your beloved Durga Maa.'
Hiran withdraws the food away from Rashid's clutches. Rashid looks at him, almost falling to his knees, begging,' Please I don't care about Ramzan, I want Abba jaan alive, he has been working hard so he can feed the family. He is starving and we have no money to take him to the hospital. All I beg for is some food. He has a weak heart... '
' Silence boy, Go home now!' bellowed Abdul Rashid, as he thrashed young Rashid away with the back of his hand. ' Every one of us suffer, we do so for Allah. We repent child, you do not understand what repentance is. '
' What does Allah exist for if he cannot save one man! ' cried the young fallen Rashid.
' How dare you boy!' Abdul takes out his knife from his pocket.
' Please leave him Rashid bhai, the boy shares the same name as you, he shares the same god as you do. Why torture such a young child with things he does not understand. '
Abdul Rashid says nothing farther, the people around them say nothing either, they all sit and watch the spectacle as if it was everyday life. It was so for them, horror was nothing but bread and butter in the slums and death was always lurking in the corner.
The younger Rashid got up and wiped his tears. The pain in his eyes were replaced by anger. ' May Allah forgive you, for I will never do the same.' he ran away, tears falling from the side of his cheeks.
On the eve of Maha Sapatami, Ramzan ended. A rare moment in history when two great festivals collided. And Hindus and Muslims like Brothers welcomed one another in warm embrace. In the corner of the street, shops were closing for the day. A man was sitting by the lamp post in the dark, watching the lights in the distant streets, far away from the silence that inhabited the darkness. What he didn't know was some one was watching him as well. Some one who slowly crawled up behind him.
Rashid took out the knife he was hiding in his back and he stabbed the man from behind.
' This is for Abba Jaan. You scoundrel, he would have been alive if it weren't for you or your Allah.'
He kept stabbing the man from behind till he could stab no more. He then lifted the man's face in front to stab him one last time. The light from the lamp post flickered on both of them and he saw Hiran's face in front of him, smeared with blood and with eyes that had lost all it's glow which even the brightest of lights could not bring back anymore. The knife fell from Rashid's hand. He could not move and it seemed like a fraction of a second but it weighed down upon him like eternity. He eventually got up and he ran without looking back. He ran across the labyrinth, unable to look back, unable to rewind time, unable to forget the faces. Unable to stop death from torturing him. He was finally stopped at his tracks by the call of a little girl clad in Sari like Maa Durga. It was Neetu, Hiran's youngest sister. She was sitting in front of his shabby home.
' What are you doing here? ' he said surprised, gasping for breath. Fear dawning upon him.
' Brother sent me to give you this food. He said sorry about your Abba Jan. Eid mubarak Rashid.' she said with a smile etched on her face. And at that moment, they could hear screams coming from the slums in the distance. The sound of happiness in the festivity continued elsewhere, muffling the screams of the people. Somewhere the anguish remained silent in Rashid's heart. He had already seen that time was a canvas and that night, it was painted with blood.