“Come one, come all, come ye, to the 49th anniversary of the great saint’s journey to Heaven,” the conductor announced.
The crowd had been building since the previous evening. The shrine was bang on the side of a 2-lane road. Devotees were coming in from across the border in India too. Arrangements to sit and pray had been done on the pavement.
The conductor was an octogenarian. The hair on his scalp was shiny silver, covering almost all of it. The face was droopy, and pockmarked with smallpox. The nose had probably been the most prominent location on it once. Now, it had a bulge at the top, pockmarked like the rest of the face. Big even now, but the bags under the eyes had more real estate. They’d once been confined to the bottom of the eye sockets. Enroute to his age, they’d received generous help from the top of the cheeks and had grown bigger. The result was that the cheeks now looked like being in a different postcode to the hollowed-out eyes. They reached out to you even before his genial smile did.
His spindly frame was successfully resisting the enormous romantic pulls of gravity. He once told me that he’d been an avid runner back in the day. Of course, ‘back in the day’ could mean anything from the decades before the war to those of the bloodbath around or after it. Who knows? Maybe I should have asked him for clarification.
“Why don’t you take some proshad (holy offerings)?” He offered me some coconut slices and “mishthaan.”
“Have you taken bath today?” He quizzed, looking at me. The mockery was plain visible on his face.
“Then go have a dorshon (pray to the deity).” He smiled some more.
“I had it from here.”
“Bah. Go kneel in front of him.”
“Or my wish wouldn’t be granted?” I chuckled.
“It doesn’t behoove a good Bangaal (Bangladeshi) to not offer his prayers on such a big day.”
I’d been a regular at the shrine. For someone like me, it was great to spend time with Babaji, as I called the conductor. He had a story in his past, but he kept it to himself. No one else knew. No one but me, that is.
At the moment, he was busy dealing with the devotees.
“Get the kids in line, please, sister.”
“Yeah, we have enough bhandaara (Holy lunch) for the whole locality.”
“God bless you, brother. And you too, sister. Without the contributions from you all, this wouldn’t have been possible today.”
The devotees were focussed on their prayers.
There was a time, he once told me, when he used to feel like going away. He felt like he needed to be elsewhere. That running away might be the only thing he could do to save himself. The bombings, the massacres, he’d grown tired of watching people die. Back in the day, (yeah, that phrase!), he had run around, sharing crucial messages to the Resistance movement. As had I. We had saved hundreds of people, until that one fateful day, 49 years ago.
“Hush, child, everything will be fine. Don’t worry.” He waved a hand over the forehead of a kid crying out in fever.
As the day bid adieu, calling for its cousin twilight, people made way to their homes. The shrine was getting it’s solitude and peace back. We had stopped ageing long ago, but our lives were still ongoing.
“Let’s go have some sleep, yeah?” I suggested.
“Wait. There’s still time for the day to end.”
As twilight called out to its first cousin night, even Babaji got the signal.
“Well, we can run tomorrow, you know?” I pushed.
“D’you think the Mukti Bahini would reach here before the Army?”
“Does it matter? You’re a geriatric. I’m a cripple.” I suppressed a giggle.
“And we’re both dead.” We guffawed together.
“Joi Bangla,” we shouted.
Featured image courtesy.
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