The Bond of Blood

It was close to the midday and tears were flowing persistently from Manorama’s cavernous eyes like spring water gushing out of tiny holes in the land. The village women were trying to pacify her, to silence her and to remind her that one day all of them will have to depart. They all knew right from the day they became conscious that nothing in life was as sure as death, as real as death.
Manorama too knew it. She too knew that the villagers who joined his funeral would come back within a few hours after cremating his body and she would not find Shailesh-- her husband--among them, among those lucky survivors whom death had given some more time to be with their loved ones. But her tears did not stop. Madhu and Rupak, her two sons, were also weeping not knowing why. They still wondered why their father was wrapped in a white cloth, put on a bamboo bed and carried away by villagers. They were angry with the villagers. They knew their father had not done anything wrong. Simple and innocent as he was, he was not actually capable of doing anything wrong.
“I cannot live without you, Manorama,” he said. “Actually I don’t know how to live without you,” he said.
“I too don’t know how to live alone, in your absence,” she replied.
And both of them used to sit beside the fire in the evening eye to eye. At times they forgot their being there and the fanning hands and giggles of their children brought them back to the world of reality.
By counting his last breath, Shailesh proved today that he knew how to live without Manorama, who was left behind, left to see his absence.
Manorama too knew how to go, how to follow Shailesh. They had promises, promises to keep. And she wanted to keep those promises even if Shailesh didn’t. But Madhu and Rupak stood in front?
She thought, “What will happen to her sons in the absence of their parents? They have not even understood the very meaning of their being in the world. They do not know who they are, where they are from and what they are supposed to do. They know nothing.”
Manorama looked at her sons. The flooded stream of her eyes receded. She looked around and stared at the way her Shailesh was carried on the bamboo bed. She looked down to the stream to see it meeting the big river. Her eyes noticed a thick flame of smoke rising up. It was her Shailesh, mixing up into the elements. She cried again—nonstop. All of a sudden she looked stern. She wiped her eyes. She embraced Madhu and Rupak.
“I cannot live alone without you, Shailesh,” she cried. She held her sons tighter and uttered “You are here with me. You cannot leave me alone. You cannot leave me alone.” And she started kissing her sons and started embracing them even tighter.
The village women were shocked to notice the abrupt change in Manorama and still in tears thought about her, thought about the days this couple worked hard only to survive. It was hard work, work that paid little—carrying loads like donkeys, tilling land that produced little and keeping engaged in physical work from dawn to dusk for meager food—that took Shailesh’s life. They all started thinking about Manorama’s destiny in their own way. They all knew her days would not be easy ahead. But still they tried their best in their own way to make her forget the traumatic past knowing very well that doing what they were suggesting would after all be very hard to do.
The sun was about to sink and Manorama was not ready to get up from the place where her husband was wrapped in the coffin cloth. Her unwavering look was aimed to the very site from where the dead body was lifted and taken away. The image of Shailesh lying on the ground was not ready to go from her eyes. Shailesh was still visible to her.
Her two sons had slept on her lap. When the rays of the sinking sun could only be noticed on the top of the mountain across the valley, the village males who had gone for the funeral rite arrived. They were shocked and saddened to see Manorama still sitting in the yard with her sons on her lap. Hardly anyone of them had the courage to say anything to her. They rather instructed the village women to take her to the village tap and give her a bath according to the tradition. All was done. There was hardly any reaction that Manorama made. She was brought home after the bath.
Manorama had almost stopped speaking. It seemed as if she was maimed and muted. Some village women kept at her place that night. They looked after her children. The routine followed for a number of days. After thirteen days funeral rituals were over. Manorama did not change much; she did not speak; she did not move; she did not react; and neither did she take care of her children. It was not easy for the village women to tell when she would start behaving normal if she at all did. Time however passed silently beside her until Madhu got 23 and Rupak got 21. She looked after her sons mostly lost in her own world.
The village women knew what it was for Manorama to live and to grow her children up. She did not leave any stone unturned. Hunger was her friend; scarcity was her company; humiliation was her shadow; worries her breathing; pain--regular pain --was her blood. All these twenty years she was with them.
Madhu and Rupak knew little how she drank and swallowed the pain without any scream. It was hard- very hard at times – for her to forget Shailesh. All these twenty years, not a single night was such that Shailesh did not come to her. When her sons slept, her tearful eyes always called him. He would come quietly, sit together, roll through her eyes to watch the offspring heading on the right path. Manorama could hardly tell when Shailesh quietly disappeared and mixed with his elements. Her heaving heart and hands trying to reach him would search him but in vain. At times she would be impatient to call him back to be reminded of her past.
One night Manorama was caught muttering and sobbing. Madhu got up and asked his mother, “Ma! Who are you talking to and why are you sobbing?”
“Talking and sobbing? Not at all dear,” she said wiping her face in a hurry. “Perhaps you had a dream. I think your day was hectic. Take rest,” she said and Madhu did not question next.
There was nothing that Manorama didn’t do all these twenty years. She did every possible thing to support her children, to provide them food and education.—washing, cooking, carrying manure to the fields and working in fields in adverse climatic conditions too. She didn’t ever say oop!
Her work paid. Though not physical, Shailesh’s support was always there. He was always with her. His absence was a strong presence; his disappearance was a strong appearance; his death too gave meaning to her life; it was all that which made a meaning.
Time passed and with the passing time everything changed. Madhu and Rupak grew up well. Madhu got a position of Lieutenant in Royal Nepal Army. He finished his cadet training in the army and came back to his home to pass a couple of weeks with his mother. Manorama’s sons were what others were not. Madhu had achieved in the village what others had failed to achieve. The first army officer in the village.
“Look at his face. He looks just like his father,” the old people of the village said recollecting his dead father.
“Look at his pointed nose, dark, big eyes, broad forehead and the smiling face, they are all just like his father’s,” a village grandpa said.
Rupak too had grown. He had also joined a local school as a secondary level teacher. He had majored in social science. People got confused when they saw him. They thought he was Madhu. Most people thought that Madhu and Rupak were twins. Both were bright, brilliant, friendly and handsome.
Manorama’s toil paid. Both of her sons were with her to pass the whole month of September 1993. They would join their duty the next month. At night, when it was time to go to bed, Manorama went to her sons’ room, recollected her past, told them who they were, where they were and what they had to do. Sons knew. They didn’t speak. Their eyes used to be full of tears; their hearts ready to break. With tearful eyes, keeping their lips still tight, they spoke-- spoke so much to make the mother understand their hearts. She understood their promises not to forget the past and to act in the days to come so that no mother would ever after suffer so much as their mother had suffered.
Manorama enjoyed living with her sons. She was happy that Madhu was deputed at the district barrack located at the headquarters of her hilly district. Meeting him would not be difficult for her. Whenever the son’s absence fell heavy on her, she thought, she would go and meet him or send him a message to come home once a month or so.
Rupak was deputed at a local school barely half an hour’s walk from the village. He would always be there with his mother. A month’s time before starting the job had mixed reactions for the mother and the sons. The sons wanted the time to pass quickly, but every single day, they thought, passed like a year. For the mother, time was just fleeting, days passed in seconds. She wanted to procrastinate the days and wished that nights and days doubled their length and gave her chance to be with her sons longer and longer. She had borne a lot of separation. The sons had little idea of that separation. They had zeal, enthusiasm and excitement of starting a career. Here was the struggle between a career that was on the rise and the career on the fall.
‘Time and tide...’ proved true. With tearful smile, the mother had to wish the sons a very happy career ahead again.
Was she smiling or weeping or both or more than that?, only her heart could tell.
Manorama sent a son clad in army uniform to his duty and the other with books in hand to his school-- with love in a golden bowl.
Manorama’s heart was sqeezing and bulging wide, opening and closing, beating fast and again narrowing. Pride and honor, self-satisfaction and elation, gain and pain mixed. It was difficult for her to tell white from black, rise from fall, happiness from sadness. It was all an admixture of remote feelings and her smile and tears really spoke what was inside.
Days passed, three months passed. December came to an end. Madhu and Rupak enjoyed the work and got the love and affection of friends and colleagues. Madhu’s disciplinary conduct made the Major, his chief, adore him. Friends enjoyed his company. Rupak proved his ability as a lovely teacher. Students enveloped him wherever he went. He would put his heart in teaching. Putting one’s heart in teaching, losing oneself in a profession? It makes a difference and it made.
People came to Manorama and told about her sons. She knew nothing. She understood nothing about their jobs and work procedure. But her heart swelled up when her sons were praised. Her swelling again burst out in mixed wave of tears and smiles in the seclusion of her tiny hut in the absence of her son.
She would then start talking to Shailesh. “It’s all because of you Shailesh. You gave me company in absence and it had so much strength. You would not be able to feel that strength you know,” she said.
In her cottage, she would see Shailesh sitting with broad smile-- loving and cooperative-- but with helpless tone. She would listen Shailesh saying, “I adore you Manorama,” she would just blush and turn aside and look up to see him again, but alas! She would find him no more. In desperation, she would again fall back on her sons.
It was mid- January. It was over three months since her sons started working. Madhu was doing well. He sent messages. Rupak was always with her. He supported the mother in every work after the school. Manorama was in a perfect joy after years of her husband’s sudden departure. Her only thought was to have Shailesh with her.
January is not a good month in the hills. There is usually heavy snow fall. But this year it was not so heavy. During this month, mountains of her village show no sign of greenery. They are all white and the cold wind blows and makes the mornings and evenings chill.
On January 16 it was very cold. There were some clouds in the sky. Manorama got up at the dawn, came out, looked at the sky and felt the chill and then went in and again went under her quilt. She told Rupak that the weather was not very good outside. For some reason Manorama really didn’t like the day. Much later in the morning, Manorama got up, washed her face and cooked for Rupak. He had to go to school.
It was 9:30. Rupak told Manorama, “Ma, I am going to school and I will be slightly late.”
“Okay, take care dear,” she said. For some reason she didn’t want him to go to school that day. But she knew that he would not agree if she told him not to go.
Rupak got to school and resumed his routine task. He mixed up with the students as usual. He kept himself engrossed in teaching as usual. At 2:30 there was a sudden uproar in the school. All of a sudden, the school children started screaming. Some of the children looked so frightened as if a poisonous snake had entered their classroom. Most of the children had blank faces. They didn’t know how to react.
Rupak was shocked by the scream of tiny kids. He left the class he was teaching in and came out. What he saw around the school were young boys and girls of school age holding revolvers, SLRs and heavy rifles. They were about twenty and they had the entire school under control. Every student was shaking with fear. The young boys now started shouting slogans. Shailesh then learnt that they are the cadre of Maoist rebels. They had no intention to threat and capture the school children. They were there only to abduct Rupak, the brother of Lieutenant, Madhu. They considered army men their enemies and wanted to wipe out their families. The teachers and students came to know about it when a hefty but rude spoilt brat holding SLR broke up and asked who Rupak was. This boy spoke as is he was vomiting venoms. He spoke as if his mother had not ever taught him any word. It seemed as if he never knew what common sense meant. His tone showed no tint of an act meant for people’s welfare.
“Who is Rupak? Come to the front. We want to show your brother that we too know what the trigger does and what the muzzle vomits. We want to show the scoundrel what it means to chase us,” he shouted.
Everyone was scared. No teacher or student was ready to show Rupak. But the cruel voice of that venomous youth angered Rupak and he jumped forth.
“I am Rupak. Why the hell do you call me,” he said.
“Tie this bastard and let him know what we want to do with him and his family,” he said.
Teachers and students with a unanimous voice requested for forgiveness, but they all turned deaf ears towards them. They instead shouted slogans, fired a few blank fires and rushed towards the jungle. All the teachers were left in utter disappointment and for half an hour no one spoke as if a demon had breathed in their mouth and made them mute. Only then they regained full consciousness. But they were all helpless. There was a sense of loss--loss of the friend. They knew Rupak’s return was rare.
Manorama awaited the return of her son from school. She had prepared Khaja for him. She remembered that he had told he would be late. In the mean time she saw school children coming. One of the boys went to Manorama and told her that Rupak sir was hijacked by Maoists.
“What?” she excaimed.
When the news was rectified by another teacher from the same village, she almost lost her consciousness. Darkness covered her eyes; she lost her vision and consciousness and fell on the ground. Villagers came around, watched her. It was an hour later when she came to consciousness. But the conscious state was more painful. She wept, fell unconscious and again came to consciousness only to fall into coma longer. This repeated. A few women of the village kept with her.
The news spread around. The news of the seize reached the headquarters. Madhu also heard it. The news of one of their officer’s brother’s abduction shook the army men. They all sympathized with Madhu. The Major ordered them to make a search in the locality and to destroy the Maoist rebels. He gave Madhu the charge.
Madhu knew how her mother would be, but he made a determination to follow orders. He didn’t go to his mother but for search. The soldiers left the barrack in the evening. It was getting dark. They had to walk up the hill and climb fairly high to search those rebels who had abducted his brother. The army had got a message that they were hiding in a rocky cave up the hill about 5 kilometers from Madhu’s village. It was midnight when the army arrived to the area where the rebels were suspected to be hiding. This proved to be true. As the army was heading towards that cave graciously, they came to the notice of the rebels and the firing began.
At midnight the whole locality shook. Villagers around the hills and valley below shook in fear. Gun fires criss-crossed like fire crackers. Both groups took the front. The rebels used human shield. The army fired indiscriminately as did the rebels. Firing continued until the sunlight shone on the hills. In the light, the rebels found themselves at loss and ran away.
At the time of fight both the groups had come neck to neck. A large number of people were killed. A larger number wounded. Both were happy that they had killed the enemies unaware of who they had killed. During the clash the army lost many young and vibrant soldiers. But they had hardly any time to see who died. The soldiers however knew that one of their soldiers was shot dead--Madhu was shot dead. His body was noticed by soldiers lumped on the body of a rebel--their enemy. But they had hardly any time to check if Madhu was still breathing. It was only when the gun fires silenced in the morning, soldiers noticed Madhu’s body--frozen body lying face up on the body of an enemy which was below. Both bodies had deep wounds. A pool of blood--now clotted-- from both the bodies had gathered in a ditch.
The sun was up in the morning. The enemies of the soldiers had run away. Everything was silent. The army still occupied the hill. Soldiers were tired and didn’t know what to do to the dead bodies of their friends--soldiers. They damn cared the enemies.
One soldier, a close friend of Madhu said, “We have to inform Madhu sir’s ma, at least, she is very close from this location.”
A messenger was sent. A soldier went directly to Madhu’s house. His mother was still in tears for Rupak who was taken away by Maoist.
The soldier said, “Ma, you have been called by our officer to Tika Hill. The officer said it was urgent.”
Manorama wondered why she was called. She asked the soldiers but he revealed ignorance regarding the cause of the call. Manorama thought it useless to ask him. She was divided between hope and despair. Hope for Rupak and despair for his loss. What about Madhu? She did not even think of him.
After two hours walk, Manorama arrived to Tika hill. From a distance, she saw a few dead bodies scattered. Her heart gave way. She got shattered. It was impossible for her to hold herself. But however she got closer to a place where army jabans were ganged up. When Manorama arrived there, all soldiers looked at her and bowed their heads. The officer however, gathered courage and came closer to her and said, “Ma, I am very sorry. I could not save him.”
Manorama’s heart sank. She was now sure that Rupak was no more. The officer gathering some courage directed Manorama to a place where two bodies lumped one upon another. One face was turned to the sky and the other was buried underneath. When Manorama went closer the dead pile, she saw Madhu’s face. She got discolored. Her face now looked like a dried petal of a rose. She was neither conscious nor unconscious.
“Ma, he killed the enemies and saved us, but we could not save him. We are sorry Ma,” the soldiers uttered in single voice.
There was no drop of tear on her eyes. There was no expression on her face. It was blank. She went closer to the dead, saw the pool of blood, saw Madhu’s face, clasped him to her breasts raising his body aside only to notice that beneath him was his brother Rupak.
Rupak, the enemy, and Madhu, the soldier. Manorama looked at the blood. It was all red, clotted. She tried to pull one son from the other. But the clotted blood denied cracking. The fight was there in the dark. Invisible worm had bitten the brothers in the dark.
Manorama did not react at all. Her widely opened eyes which had ceased to blink could tell everything that her gaping mouth wanted to utter. The only voice heard thereafter was “Shailesh, I have promises to keep.” With this utterance, three of them became a lump, became one.
Tears rolled in the soldiers’ eyes and on the distant rock a huge vulture appeared looking at the corpses with piercing eyes, and perhaps the rebels in their distant hideouts were happy that they were capable of leveling.