Fight for Independence and Noah’s Arc

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Noah’s Hill by Shyamal Bhattacharya

Translated by Nabanita Sengupta

Do you know Nambudri, in our childhood, if ever our father came to know after our returning home, that we had been beaten up, he used to flog us again with a ‘lath’. And if someone complained about us doing the same, then God save us. I don’t know why ‘baba’ always felt that other’s sons could never misbehave. His sons were at the root of all evil!

In response to this, Captain Nambudripad moved his pawn one step ahead and told Captain Hiren:

Amazing! Even my father used to smack us with the tip of coconut frond for the same reason. But here, our government is a silent spectator.

 

You are right. Our soldiers are dying every day for their wrong policies. Even those for whom we are here, leaving our homes and dear ones, are considering us to be their enemies.

 

Hiren moved his knight to check Nambudri’s king and said – save your king! Just as Nambudri moved his king by one place, Hiren checked him again using his bishop. The game had picked up tempo. Just then a low cirrus cloud caused a sudden downpour. They had to pick up their chess board and move inside their tent. Soldier Jaychander, too, rushed there to bring in the two field chairs and the folding table.

Since the past few days, there had been similar showers each afternoon. It would last for some time and immediately thereafter, the sky would be clear. Bright stars would reappear. Standing atop the watch tower, it seemed that there was a steady sky overhead and an oscillating sky, spread across the horizon on all three sides. In that steady sky, even though the stars were fixed, all of them twinkled. But none of the stars in the oscillating sky ever twinkled. They all swayed together to lose their individual shine and be a part of the combined beauty. It was similar to an army drill or PT, something similar to ‘We shall overcome’.

Since the past few days, there had been similar showers each afternoon...
Since the past few days, there had been similar showers each afternoon...

That day there was moon in the sky. It was a full moon night. This was the second full moon night since Hiren’s arrival at Batticaloa. On the first full moon night, the sky was overcast in the evening and it had rained at night. But that day when Hiren had stepped out of his tent to use the toilet, just before the night would give way to the dawn, he saw his surroundings flooded with light. Green trees had turned silver. The entire island was shining bright in moonlight. This place was not even a proper island as on one side about 25-30 metres of its land was attached to the mainland. The coast stretched for about three and a quarter of a kilometre. Surrounded by hills on three sides, this place could be called an isle and not an island. Or it should be just called Batticaloa Army Base which was then occupied by the Indian Army. But the word ‘occupy’ too was a half-truth. They were a part of the peace-keeping troop, guest army, and hence, a separate space was given to them.

They were a part of the peace-keeping troop, guest army, and hence, a separate space was given to them...
They were a part of the peace-keeping troop, guest army, and hence, a separate space was given to them...

The Indian army was occupying three army bases of that country in those days—Jaffna in the north, Trincomalee in the eastern coast, and about ninety kilometres from there, Batticaloa. Colombo was about 150 kilometres south-west from there, situated in the western coast of Sri Lanka. Hiren had never been to Colombo though he did wish to. 

But at that moment, Batticaloa appeared unparalleled to Hiren. On top of the watch tower, with a strong wind blowing, he and Nambudri had to wear pullovers even in that summer. The rain had stopped a while back.

 

There wasn’t a speck of cloud in the sky. As moonlight reflected upon the wet trees of that place, which was neither a hill nor an island, but a raised platform surrounded by the sea, it resembled Noah’s Ark —that boat in which Noah had collected representatives of all plants and animals during the Great Deluge and had set sail.

 

In that huge ark, crocodiles and gavials basked in the sun. Snakes, mongoose, chameleons, lizards, leeches, earthworms, centipedes, insects and scorpions wriggled about in that space. There was buzzing of honey bees, bumble bees, mosquitoes and house flies. Apart from that there were foxes, rabbits, wild dogs and almost all the varieties of birds and bees. Only, there weren’t any of those large animals like elephant, tiger or bear. Sailing along the sea, this huge ship had just anchored itself in the shores of the small city of Batticaloa in this large island.

The city was going through a terribly violent phase in those days. People were turning into each other’s enemies. Some people had termed this fight as the fight for independence. For the Tamils, who were dominant in this region, but a minority everywhere else in Sri Lanka and thus exploited and tortured, this was a war to regain self-respect. But for the dominant race of the Sinhalese, this war was terrorism. A dominant race, in any part of the world, never accepts any uprising against the state power. And that was why this was going to be a long battle. It was not the job of any neutral peace keeping troop to be able to establish peace in that country.

Still the Indians came. Otherwise, the Sri Lankan government would have asked for soldiers from the United States of America. In that case, America would have definitely sent its peace keeping troops and they would be breathing down India’s neck.

The army, by then, was aware that it had not been deployed there for the purpose of fighting, not even to live like soldiers. They were there to just endure the thrashings. They had guns, but not the permission to use those. They could use those for self-defence in case of an attack, but that would lead to a court of enquiry. A copy of that report would be sent to the Home Ministries of both India and Sri Lanka. The Indian Home Ministry would then forward that copy to the United Nations, SAARC summits and the Commonwealth Summit. At every stage, one would have to justify the action. And during that period the associated officer and the soldiers under him would go through so much of harassment that it would make them want to just let go off everything.

The government was aware of this helpless state, but it was in a fix too. Therefore, in spite of understanding everything, it did not take any action. Hiren and Nambudripad had named this isle as Noah’s Hill.

Batticaloa
Batticaloa

And Nambudripad would add to rhyme – here burns our dil (heart)

Hiren used to ponder—here there are no waves, no one to express love and affection, and the heart aches day and night. No one knows the ache that these salt-laden breeze brings, no one knows the ache of separation that a soldier goes through.

His heart would cry at these thoughts.

Next part of the translation will be published next Monday (17.6.24).

All Images: www.pixabay.com

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3 Responses

  1. Nabanita herself is a poet. Hence, her choice of words while translating creates an almost similar world of my thought.

  2. I would like to add that, Nabanita herself is a poet. Hence, her choice of words while translating creates an almost similar world of my thought.

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