Homeless, Short Story by Sanjoy Dutt

Article Posted in: Short Story


By – Sanjoy Dutt

Published in January 2016, Issue XII

A thick coil of smoke from the steam engine was visible in the far horizon. The train loaded with coal for the power plant came closer. The train slowed down on the tracks as it climbed up the hill.  We had to risk our lives to climb onto the moving train, fill our sacks and drop them before the train moved too far away. My sister ran alongside the train below and collected our bags. The coal kept our ovens burning and traded to buy food. There were many children like us. I was ten and my sister eleven.

My father was a respected school teacher and our family was happy in Dhaka. One day I heard my father and uncle talking about the changes Bangladesh, in those days called East Pakistan, was going through. ‘Razakar’s’, the pro-Pakistani volunteers, along the Pakistani Army unleashed a reign of terror against the freedom fighters.

“The country is too unstable, I am thinking about leaving.” My uncle told Dad. “Razakar’s are destroying temples and raping Hindu women with the help of the Army. It’s getting worse every day. I am moving to India soon. Come with us.”

My Father was sentimental and did not want to leave. He told my uncle, “I am not prepared to leave my country and my ancestor’s house.”

 Within a few days, my uncle and many others sold all they had and left for India. Things got worse with each passing day. News of mass killing and rape by the army was heard every day. Anyone associated with the liberation movement was tracked down and killed.

One day, my father returned home with a horrific look on his face. The Razakar’s came with the soldiers and pulled all the teachers and students out accused of supporting the liberation movement.  They were forced to dig their own graves before they were killed. The others ordered to bury them. That day father was nervous about our family’s security and changed his mind. It was too late.

There was no time to sell our house; we took what we could carry. After a tiring journey in the rain, we reached the Indian border. We had to pay heavy bribes to the security forces to let us slip by and left with little money to start a new life in India. There were thousands just like us.

We went to a refugee camp close to the Indo-Bangladesh border. At the camp, thickly populated with migrants, there was no drinking water, electricity or sanitation facilities. The rains and dirt brought flies and mosquitoes. Soon a cholera epidemic broke out in the camp and hundreds died including my father. The vaccines and good water from charity groups arrived, but too late for him.

Our resources were shrinking each day, mom had to take up work as a laborer in a brick factory.  The nearest school was seven miles away and there was no money to buy books or pay school fees.  My sister and I went to work, stealing coal from the trains, to support our expenses.

A year later our country was liberated, but it was no joy for us. We continued to live a life in poverty as we did not have money to make the journey back home.

One summer night my sister came down with a fever. We had to wait until morning to see the doctor. The doctor examined her and told us she had Diphtheria and advised Mom to take her to Calcutta. We hurried back to the camp to borrow money for the train to the big city. We were on our way to the railway station when she died.

One day I was at the railway station with some boys when I saw an old neighbor, Anil, from Bangladesh. He recognized me and walked with me to our camp. He could not meet Mom as she was at work, but before leaving, he promised to return again with my uncle. We were cut off from our relatives when Dad stayed back in Bangladesh. The hardship of the refugee camp made us forget their existence.

That weekend Anil came back with my uncle. After hearing our miseries, my uncle broke down in tears, “I told my brother many times to come with me.” Uncle took us with him to Calcutta. I was admitted in a school and my mother attended nursing, classes. Life got easier.

Twenty-seven years later, we are back in Bangladesh on Indian papers. We wanted to see our old house. Everything has changed. My mother had a hard time recognizing our old house. She stood there silently her eyes full of tears. An old man called out to my mother, “Are you not the Mukherjee master’s wife?”

My mother looked at the man for a moment before recognizing him, “Tariq Bhai! How are you?”

Mom introduced me to Tariq as my father’s old classmate and best friend.

Tariq Bhai broke down in tears when he heard about our hardship in India and how my father died without treatment. “It wouldn’t have been any better here,” He said.

Later Tariq described how our house was looted and burned, but he saved one thing and hoped to return it to us some day. He handed over a framed picture of our family. All smiling; all home. It was the best gift we ever got from Bangladesh.

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