By Sadho Ram
Dreams, the ones long forgotten about a past inglorious, inhumane and equally blatant, have started coming back, though the scenes that now play in those murky frames are no longer the usual ones, the ones which haunted me more than a decade ago. There is now a man, grown up, somewhere in his 20s, maybe above, who stands on the other side of the road from exactly opposite of the place where I’m standing, in my own dream.
Author’s Note: After I saw Milan on the tracks on Mira Road station about 2 months ago, I have tried to go there again, with an faint hope that just in case, if I see him again. But I didn’t go. It won’t serve any purpose if I see him again this time, and this time after remembering everything about him, I still won’t be able to tell him nothing. I don’t know where’s the rest of his family members are? I don’t know whatever happened to them? And above all, I don’t know if he would remember who he is?
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Milan. Yes, that was his name. He was from the same neighborhood as mine, and his house was about 14-15 houses away from mine, on the other side of the lane. His father owned a small tea-stall in the center of the market. Though it was quite big when compared to other tea-stalls in that village of mine, and was the only one which stayed open till late in night.
He, Milan, was into the same government and the only school in my village; I too was in, but not in the same class, though he wasn't my junior nor was he my senior. While his class used to be conducted under the huge banyan tree, mine was inside the concrete room. It’s not like there weren’t enough room in the school for his class to be also conducted inside a concrete room, but being the low caste, as they were and as considered by the villagers, Milan along with other kids from his own low caste had to do with the class set under the huge banyan tree.
I guess nature knows no boundaries, it provides for everyone equally. It’s only us, human, who create divisions in the name of ‘names’.
My father, the Sarpanch of the village had tried many a times to change this partiality from at least happening inside a place, where knowledge was imparted into the young bloods and nurtured with a hope for a better tomorrow, the place, which he considered greater than any temples or mosques. But a village Panchaayat is not made of one man and so cannot also be ruled by one, though however greater that one man’s chair among other members of the village Panchaayat is, it or his power of superiority doesn't matter much if he has got no support in his decisions from other members of the Village Panchaayat.
The day when I saw Milan in Bombay, near the Mira road railway track, and couldn't recall his name while in my failed attempt to address him, I had felt as if I had seen a ghost, the kind who lives and breathes inside fables of a fabricated world. But in another second, I knew he wasn't what it felt like – a ghost. He was real, out there, on the tracks of Mira road, in a red shirt (no the colour doesn't represent any communalism), and faded jeans, whose colour I couldn't make out.
And he had only one arm. I had difficulty imagining him in the past like this, without an arm, when he was in school and had both his arms intact. Somehow, it didn't make any sense. I for a moment tried to deny his existence. He was dead; as everyone is the village had accepted, after their victory on the Daayan, when after 1 year there were still no trace of any of those about dozens of vanished children from my village.
His parents didn’t knew if they should grief or should they feel relieved that their two other children, one boy younger to Milan and a girl, the eldest one, were now safe. I don’t recall those twos name now and nor do I recall the name of their mother, who went mad and would oftentimes grab hold of random kids passing by in front of her house and whisper her lost son’s name, sobbing and smiling at equal times.
She had become a menace. Yes, menace, that’s what the villagers had started thinking of her and also calling her, though not in the open, but the whispers of thousands are far worse than the screams of few. And so the whispers did their part of job. I never saw her after that night, when she had suddenly grabbed my hand, sobbing and smiling, and had started calling out her lost son’s name. In the dark night, under the dim light of moon, her appearance frightened me. Her eyes were red and her hairs disheveled I was too shocked to scream but somehow managed to free my hand from her hold and ran. I ran without looking, where I was headed and I ran without a reason for me to be running like that. I just ran and ran.
The morning after that night was unusually silent. The air that flew carried subdued shrieks of a woman’s dismembered body being found, packed inside a rack in the pond situated in the outskirts of the village.
Everyone was silent. No one tried to speak up. The spell of silence grew lauder with each passing moment. Children were hushed inside the houses. The women were asked to remain inside. I stood at the edge of my home’s terrace. Looking below at the people gathered outside the gate of my house. They were waiting for my father. Their Sarpanch!