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Amit Shankar Saha Monsoon Sonata

hat year the monsoon did not arrive on time. There were other years when the monsoon did not arrive on time, but that year was unusually hot and to wait for the rains over the days seemed like waiting over the ages. If you stared a bit too long at the sky devoid of any clouds with the scorching sun staring back, you found that unawares your lower jaw had dropped into a dumb-struck stare. So when Dukhey was arrested in such a pose early in the morning, his wife Moyna passing by could not help but comment, Haa kore ki dekhcho.1 This made Dukhey conscious of his demeanor and he shifted his gaze away from the sky. But it wasn’t only Dukhey. A couple of hours later it was Dukhey’s uncle, Horen, who was caught in the same posture of awe while in the field. Even Moyna herself became a victim of this unconscious act later in the evening while she was looking out for Fokir and Nogen. Fokir and Nogen had gone to the dried-up river bed to dig for valuables. Nogen found a pebble which was a perfect sphere. Fokir marvelled at his elder brother’s find and was overjoyed when Nogen gave it to him to feel its contours. Fokir’s fingers went around the smooth surface and then hurriedly he returned it to Nogen, afraid that he might drop it in the mud and it might disappear as mysteriously as it had appeared from the mud. Nogen pocketed his precious pebble when he saw Kanai, who was known for his unscrupulous habits, eyeing him. Nogen was happy at his fortune, for he had found something that would surely make the other children’s discoveries rather crude in comparison. He began to walk stiffly, with Fokir, whose happiness was amply evident in his skipping and dancing steps, trailing behind him. Nogen wondered how incredible it was that such a globular stone came into the river bed. He mused aloud, Ke phello eta nodite?2 He creased his forehead as if sighting afar an answer to his rhetorical question. He was, of course, unaware that the very piece of stone that now lay ensconced in his pocket may have been a privileged witness to the geological history of the land which waits every year with parched tongue for the monsoon wind bearing rains. Nogen wouldn’t know that perhaps that pebble was once a part of the sea bed of the Tethys, when around fifty million years ago it got uplifted in the impact between the Gondowanaland of the Indian subcontinent and the Angaraland of the Asian landmass to form the Himalayas. If the pebble could roll back in time and get un-weathered into a boulder that was once a part of the Himalayas, it would tell you how this land had to wait for forty-five million years since its formation to get the first drops of monsoon. It was only about five million years ago that the tectonics of the earth closed the Indonesian Seaway, thus weakening the cold Leeuwin Current of the Pacific Ocean, which resulted in the rise of


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the sea surface temperature of the Indian Ocean and ultimately heralded the first summer monsoon rains to the intended land. Had the land a visage then, would its lower jaw have dropped in wait for such an eon? In comparison Dukhey’s wait for the monsoon was minuscule. But so is the entirety of human existence on this earth and ever so minuscule is a span of a human life in this entirety of human existence. And yet each human life would not have been possible without all the ages past. Each human life is a resultant of all the bygone ages, like a pebble on the river bed. So the human wait, however minuscule, is not negligible after all. They all waited – Dukhey, Horen, Moyna, and even Nogen and Fokir. Though Fokir waited for one more thing – that one day Nogen would give him the round pebble as an heirloom. Nogen also knew how the pact was implicit in their mutual understanding. When Moyna caught hold of her two children, she had gathered by then some news too. Kusum mashi3 was going to hold a joggo4 the next day to appease the rain gods. She was hopeful that if Kusum mashi succeeded in her aim then she would no longer have to cut on the two proper meals for her children. When the three of them reached home, Dukhey and Horen were speaking about Kusum mashi’s joggo and the preparations for it. Horen was trying to convince Dukhey to offer his goat as a sacrifice in the ceremony. Dukhey was dithering; Moyna came to his aid, and put her foot down – she would not part with her goat whose milk has been a major source of sustenance for them in these strained circumstances, especially for her children. The children heard the arguments and counter arguments. Ultimately the goat remained and only the two men left for Kusum mashi’s dwelling. Nogen went inside the hut absorbed in his pebble. Fokir trailed his mother asking silly questions about the idea of sacrifice and Moyna was at pains to make him understand. So the next day at Kusum mashi’s joggo when instead of the goat an oblong-shaped gourd was sacrificed, Fokir innocently asked Moyna, Chalkumro kar priyo?5 But the monsoon did not arrive. The monsoon failed many a geologists’ forecasted dates of arrival. The climate change alarmists and the climate change critics were locking horns. In New Delhi there was a debate in the Parliament House on the unpredictability of the Indian monsoon. Some blamed the Western disturbance, some El Niño, some the ocean currents and some climate change. One member of the Parliament suddenly got up from his torpor and demanded loudly that the fellow El Niño should be immediately arrested, much to the amusement of all present. But nothing moved the monsoon to arrive. Dukhey, Moyna, Horen, Kusum, Nogen, Fokir – all waited deep into the month of Ashadh6 only to find the menacing sun taking its toll on their fields. It was in such a caked field that Nogen and Fokir were that day, when Fokir fell down and cut his knee on the brick-hard crest of mud that lined the furrow ploughed

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some months ago. For the rest of the day Fokir rode on his brother’s shoulder. They went through a field of moribund crops, they discovered an exhausted squirrel, and they threw stones down a half-dry well. They went as far as the railway station. There in the cacophony of locomotive sounds and human voices they caught hold of the word “monsoon” and carried it back home at dusk. They could have learned the word at school, too, had it not closed down due to the prevailing heat wave. But perhaps they would not have known that the small journey that they made with the word “monsoon” was nothing new, for the word has been journeying since the sixteenth century. From Arabic “mawsim” to the Portuguese “moncao” to the Dutch “monsun” to the English “monsoon” it has been as eventful a journey as the winds themselves have ever undertaken. On reaching home Nogen put Fokir down and instantly went in to inspect the niche in the wall where he had securely put his precious pebble. Fokir went straight to the kitchen for he was hungry, and finding nothing except a bowl of goat’s milk, drank it all. Upon hearing the noise of their arrival, Moyna, who was by the hedge, came reproving them for loitering in the sun all day. At the kitchen door she shouted, Sara din roddur7… but stopped mid-sentence when she saw Fokir’s upper lip stained by a film of goat’s milk and she continued instead, Sob tai kheli.8 Dadar jonyo rakhli na.9 This produced a guilty smile on Fokir’s face. All provisions of food were now exhausted and Moyna was worried because Nogen lay in bed with an empty stomach. So Moyna decided to go to Kusum mashi and get some food for Nogen at least. Fokir, whose knee was no longer paining, accompanied his mother. Again he started asking his mother about the idea of sacrifice and how you had to sacrifice something which was your priyo,10 something that you loved, to appease the gods. They returned with a couple of cucumbers and a handful of grains from Kusum mashi’s house. They found Dukhey and Horen on the veranda discussing that the shop owners, on being pressed with demands of selling things at credit till the rains arrived, had retaliated by deciding that they were not going to do so until there was confirmed news of the monsoon’s imminent arrival. Horen suggested that they should go the next day to the gram panchayat11 office and procure a job card under the government’s employment guarantee scheme. Horen was to call Dukhey early in the morning. Fokir rose at dawn to Horen’s call, Dukhey achis.12 Fokir had spent a rather sleepless night with his brains throbbing with the idea of a sacrifice to appease the rain gods. And his tender mind had arrived at a decision. So after Horen and Dukhey left and Nogen was still asleep, Fokir went to the crook in the wall and stole the round pebble. This was to be his sacrifice to the rain gods. He crept out of the house and ran at a pace to the dried-up river bed. He reached a vacant space and threw the pebble up in the sky. The stone traced a parabola and fell some distance away. The sacrifice completed, he ran back straight home, thinking that even if Nogen became piqued at পালিক পড়ুন o পড়ান

the loss of his valuable, he would not mind when in return the monsoon winds brought in the rains. As soon as Fokir returned to the house, Moyna informed that Nogen has fever – Dadar jwor.13 When Fokir entered the room eating some muri,14 he found that Nogen was delirious. At first he could not make out what Nogen was calling for, but on closer hearing his blood froze – for Nogen was saying, Amar pathor.15 He desired to hold his precious pebble in his hands for once. Fokir slipped out of the room stealthily. All through the day Moyna sat by Nogen applying a cloth dipped in water on his forehead and trying to decipher what he was saying. Apart from the jolpotti,16 she applied all home remedies that she knew of but the fever did not abate. When she milked the goat, Fokir refused to have any share of the milk and Moyna was too distressed on account of Nogen’s condition to pursue the matter further with Fokir. Later in the day Dukhey returned holding aloft his job card in happiness. But he was soon saddened at the news of Nogen’s illness and kept trying to make out the meaning of Nogen’s delirious uttering. Fokir stayed quiet on the veranda. In the evening Horen came with the news that the shopkeepers had started to sell their wares on credit since they heard that the rains had hit the coast. Fokir’s face brightened. His sacrifice was giving result. But then Moyna came out and announced that Nogen’s fever had increased; his body was burning. Soon Kusum mashi came with a bag full of wet grams. She said that it was good that Horen and Dukhey got their job cards before the news of the imminent rains, because now the local political cadres were sure to put an unofficial premium on the scheme. They could at least wait out the last few days before the rains without any problem, now that they had the job cards. But she was alarmed when she heard of Nogen’s condition. They all decided to take Nogen to the Swastha Kendra17 in the morning. Moyna was in tears to think how the boy was going to spend the night in such illness. Everyone retired early for the night. Fokir played with his meal of soft damp grams and could eat little. He threw the remaining chhola18 by the side of the hedge. Fokir decided to spend the night sleeping on the veranda like his father. No one objected. Fokir was struggling to discard a fearful thought that had made home in his mind. The rain gods were not satisfied with his pebble sacrifice. They wanted more, perhaps his brother Nogen. Was not Nogen more priyo to him that the pebble? Did he not love his brother more than the pebble? The monsoon would arrive for sure but at the cost of his brother. The thought made him shiver; it depressed him. His jaw dropped when he could not get it out of his head. He did not want the monsoon any more. The night wind brought the sound of the locomotive from afar. It sounded like a knell. Fokir slept restlessly but he did not wake up when, mysteriously, though in keeping with the unpredictable nature of the Indian monsoon, it started to rain at midnight. The monsoon winds had arrived in no time with the rains. পালিক পড়ুন o পড়ান

The first monsoon rain was still playing a symphony on the soil when Fokir opened his eyes much before anyone else had woken up in the house. And as the first rays of the sun came through the rhythmic rains, Fokir saw that the gram grains that he had thrown by the side of the hedge had started to sprout.
Glossary of Bangla terms: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. Haa kore ki dekhcho – what are you looking at with an open mouth? Ke phello eta nodite? – who threw this out in the river? mashi – auntie joggo – religious ritual that involves lighting a sacred fire Chalkumro kar priyo? – whose favorite was the gourd? Ashadh – the month of the rainy season in the Bangla calendar, corresponding to mid-June to mid-July Sara din roddur – The entire day in the sun… Sob tai kheli – you drank the whole of it Dadar jonyo rakhli na – you did not leave anything for your elder brother Priyo – dear, close gram panchayat – village administration Dukhey achis – Dukhey, are you there? Dadar jor – the elder brother has fever Muri – puffed rice Amar pathor – my stone Jolpotti – application of a wet cloth on the forehead in fever as a home remedy to reduce temperature Swastha Kendra – rural health center Chhola – garbanzo beans/mung beans

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