Ashok Kumar Nath
I had experienced a strong weakness for airplanes from childhood. Whenever I heard the humming sound of the airplane, I could not restrain myself inside the house; I would rush out and keep staring at the fast moving plane with a mix of joy and sadness. Everyone at home and at school laughed at me for this. But I was not at all fazed by their ridicule. Many a time I had to endure caning by my teachers. But this bad habit never left me.
I passed primary school. Then M.E. school. Even after I enrolled in high school, my desire to become a pilot did not leave me. Every moment of the day, while eating, sleeping, sitting, walking, I would remain engrossed in that thought. One plane after another would appear in the sky and then pass through my heart. My heart ached, tears formed in my eyes.
At school and in my village, everyone used to call me ‘Pilot’. I used to feel embarrassed, hurt and would cry – hiding from everyone. For I had in the meantime realised that the biggest and only obstacle to my becoming a pilot was our poor financial condition. My father cultivated others’ land on adhi (getting half the yield) basis and somehow managed two square meals a day. Added to that was me and my younger sister’s educational expenses.
One day I cleared my matriculation exam with star marks, cried and then enrolled in the higher secondary first year Arts stream. And with that came the end of a dream. Initially, I found it difficult to understand things. But I consoled myself and proceeded accordingly in life. If not by an airplane I must carry on, at least, on foot. So, I walked.
A pain in the back often troubled my father. Whenever the pain started he would groan day and night. I could not bear it. Putting my future in the backburner, I took on the present and went to the field at dawn one morning with the oxen and the plough. That first time when I went to the field my mother cried and my father tried to stop me, but I ignored them. I looked back once with scared eyes at my mother and younger sister who had walked me to the gate, and then went away along a new path of my fate. That day no one in the field talked to me. And yet, they were all our relatives. They must have been surprised. Anyway, when I was young I had dreamt of becoming a pilot, but I became a ploughman.
My father did not recover from his backache. If it abated for some time and he went to work in the field, it would relapse and give him a harrowing time. But I did not stop; I took charge of his burden. It was heavy and hurt my shoulder. I carried it on my other shoulder.
Everything, from my father’s medicine to the educational expenses of us two siblings, to food, worried me no end. But I did not cow down. In due time my sister cleared her PU and I, my BA. By that time my father had completely taken to bed. Due to lack of good treatment, he continued to suffer right in front of our eyes.
Anyway, with the help of my village folk, I joined our village primary school as a teacher because the headmaster had, in the meantime, retired. At least, I found some relief by the grace of God and the blessings of the village folk. With my first salary, I undertook to avail of proper treatment for my father. Whenever he said he was feeling better, I used to feel lighter in the mind. A smile would appear on my mother’s face.
One day I got my younger sister married. The boy was honest and of a good moral character. He did not hold a job but was into business. My sister did not complete her BA. On her wedding night she cried without restraint. My mother surpassed her at that. I did not cry, trying to console the others. I controlled the situation. After my sister went away and the others came to terms with the situation, I started wailing like a simpleton.
Time passed. Countless airplanes flew over our home. After my sister’s wedding, my mother began to ask me to enter into wedlock whenever she got an opportunity. She was finding it difficult to manage things. I noticed that she was indeed having a difficult time. Minor ailments were also beginning to trouble her. I found it difficult to agree to marry right then. Instead, I thought of turning the house into a concrete one. It was only after about five months that I could repay the loan I had borrowed for my sister’s wedding. Two more months passed after that. One day, a truck of bricks arrived at our gate. I don’t know why my heart thumped heavily that day and my mother’s voice choked when she offered her evening prayers.
(To be continued)
(Translated from the Assamese by Biman Arandhara)