The glaring mid-day Sun was at its ruthless best. The city, once so full of life and vigour, looked pale and smelt of freshly baked bitumen. Shakib’s little nose didn’t pick all that up. He was somehow trying to manage the bag full of food grains that he and his father had managed to procure after having waited for hours.
Shakib lived, along with his parents and a boastful number of siblings, in a shabby house (house, was what his father liked to call it but it was actually just a room with an asbestos roof) beside the local market. Or atleast, what was once a market. Around a week and a half back, the arrival of three to four cars full of tall, wide shouldered men resulted in the immediate disappearance of the local vegetable vendors from the streets; Shakib’s father being one of them. He didn’t understand it all too well. For Shakib (aged eight), the only real change was that his father was always in the house; a change he wasn’t too unhappy about.
Three meals a day was a peculiar luxury which Shakib’s family didn’t normally endorse. Neither did anybody complain about it. “Food was never meant to be had enough of”, was a simple truth known by all. The idea of free rationing of food grains and the need to go and grab the same was more of an excuse for him to venture out in the open and to breathe some fresh air instead of the usual, sweaty damp stench. They had started off early, he and his father. He didn’t know where they were going and simply followed the footsteps ahead. He walked straight for around 400ft from where they lived and then, took a sharp right turn into the next street and the world around him changed for good. The suave, menacing societies with their heads held high, with an almost eerie poise. “What kind of people live in these places?”, Shakib always wondered. He never saw anybody coming out of them, nor anybody going in and still, there were warm lit rooms during the evening; as if to let the world know that they were not utterly uninhabited. They lived about ten minutes away and yet, miles apart. The rationing site was the largest congregation of people that he had seen in the past few weeks. He felt glad to think that possibly, things were reverting to how they were. The shouting and huddling continued amidst the myriad chaotic instructions from masked people all around. For Shakib (aged eight), there was some hidden method in this madness and the world seemed much bigger than what it really was.
The bag was getting heavier with each little footstep that he took. His little legs were paining profusely. Did they really walk all this much while going there; he wasn’t sure anymore. The smell of cold sweat coupled with a gnawing ache down his right shoulder almost made him feel intoxicated. “Oi!! Stop right there YOU! STOP!”, beeped a jeep past the two of them and seemed to be stopping right up ahead. Two men got down. Tall, wide shouldered men. Shakib’s startled eyes met his father’s, who had already started to speak in an apologetic tone. Adults always spoke in languages quite unknown to him, but, he could feel the air all the same and somehow, he could feel that he didn’t quite like it. The men went away. The episode did nothing but drive new energy into his body to carry on, to start afresh; a boon in disguise. It was around 1:45AM when they reached home. Yes, it wasn’t much of a house, but, it was their home all the same. He fell asleep. He had not eaten anything since last night and neither did anybody else in the family but tiredness superseded hunger and sleep, like always, comforted him. When he woke up, he was greeted with a sumptous lunch; rice, daal and fried potato to go along with it as well. More than the joy of having such an elaborate arrangement, he was surprised to see the gleaming faces of his parents; a sight he wasn’t too familiar with. He didn’t fully understand what caused such elevation of spirits. For Shakib (aged eight), the times were changing for the better and he was happy, truly happy.
An exclusive lunch warranted an afternoon sleep and nobody could deny him that pleasure. Well, nobody except the whole neighbourhood. Shakib’s half awake ears had to welcome the clamour outside. Confused and somewhat scared at this sudden turn out, he rushed out of his house only to be stunned beyond his yet underdeveloped wits. Parades of exhilarated people shouting at the top of their lungs and dancing around in a stupefying glory. Such an uncouth marriage of colours and sound was unknown to him. It took him some time to realise his parents weren’t around; he knew they were there but, didn’t know where to find them. He started running hastily in the direction of the parade. He didn’t know where he was going but he knew he wasn’t alone; the incessant banging and futile war cries against some unforeseen enemy accompanied him. Just as he was running past the street, he glanced towards his right and for the first time in his short, uneventful life so far, he saw them. He saw actual humans, looking just like him or his parents, come out on their ornated balconies in the high end societies only to take their part in this sonic lunacy. Hundreds of people laughing, clapping and banging on the first thing they could find. He wondered no more. For little Shakib (aged eight), they were miles apart and yet, just the same.
Cover artwork – Jayita Raha