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Translated Fiction: Freedom (Final Part)

My rifle roared. Deuta hated shooting for the heck of it. That day I defied his teaching and killed the hunting eagle for my own
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Translated by Ranjita Biswas from the original Assamese story ‘Kranti’.

Read Freedom Part I & Part II

Father used to go hunting. But he did not kill indiscriminately; just for the pleasure of it. At the most he shot a bird or two, enough for a meat curry. Pot-hunting would be a more appropriate description of his kind of hunting. His rifle was made in China. There was a grazing field at the foot of a nearby hill. Father often took me there to teach shooting. Though at that time I was only thirteen people used to mistake me for a young woman of seventeen or so due to my figure. The thick curly hair that covered my back gave me a somewhat wild look. Even at that young age I could easily bear the pain of the recoiling rifle-butt as I pulled the trigger.

That day too, Deuta was standing next to me. The prehistoric looking eagles were fighting over a dead cow. A lone eagle was circling a little over the carcass. My rifle roared. Deuta hated shooting for the heck of it. That day I defied his teaching and killed the hunting eagle for my own amusement. I jumped up, clapping my hands in glee. My whole body shook with excitement. I shouted in delight as I hit the target. The bird fell on the ground with a thud. Streams of blood gushed out of the dead eagle. My father looked shocked. He silently looked at me. He did not utter a word but extended his hand to me. Holding my hand, he kept staring at me steadily. I stopped half-way in my victory cry. I bowed my head guiltily and gave the rifle back to him. The eagles that flew away at the sound of my rifle now returned to feast on the leftovers. The field was dotted with their ugly silhouettes. Deuta left me there – alone, in the wide desolate field. My restless feet were encased in the breeches he had recently bought for me. I didn’t know what to do in that awkward position and kept kicking one foot with the other as if it was the most important thing in the world to do. Standing there rooted, aimless amidst the primal screeching cries of the eagles, the blue sky above and happy shouts of the children playing at a little distance wafting in, I felt the hammer blow of shame and guilt at insulting my father with my trophy. The staccato sound of my boot hitting the one at the other leg was like a hammer hitting a nail monotonously. Standing on the green soft grass, as the boot’s sound penetrated my ears, I felt as if I were the nail itself, and it was sinking…sinking, into my head with its sharp point.

I defied his teaching and killed the hunting eagle for my own amusement

Strangely, perhaps due to the guilty feeling, my attraction for the rifle grew day by day. Whenever my father had to go away to the town, he took out the cartridges, cleaned the gun and placed it carefully in his personal box. I had long learnt the trick of opening the lock with the help of my hair clip. I desperately wanted to open the box but did not. At those moments I also congratulated myself for not giving in to the temptation. Those bullets were within my reach; ma was too absent-minded to notice anything. There was no one to restrain me. At moments I felt weak with the desire to open the box but I did not.
When I left the village to enroll in a college in the town and moved to a hostel, I carried the memory of that aristocratic rifle with me. As I was growing up, I wondered constantly why my father should use it for a meaningless thing like pot-hunting. This weapon, which could be used against the despicable enemy of the land, or to get rid of the unwelcome outsiders, was lying there uselessly. I couldn’t reconcile with the idea. A person as gentle as my father and rifle were not the best of combinations, I concluded. Sometimes I wished that I could steal the rifle and join the band of people in the jungle involved in an armed struggle against the administration. The idea was so romantic that the very thought made me break out in goose pimples. I somehow knew that one day I would use the weapon to do something great enough to cool my blood. I waited for the golden opportunity with growing impatience.

Meanwhile, I was getting closer to the new professor in the college, Dhiman Bora.
I remember the incident when a hairy caterpillar stung Dhiman on his chin when out on a college picnic. I was the only girl in the group with long hair. It was soaked in mustard oil and then used to rub the spot to extract the sting. For quite a few days afterwards I didn’t feel like washing my hair.

Dhiman was extremely urbane and cool. Tall, his face was nondescript but his slightly Mongolian eyes had a kind of magnetism. When he described the poem ‘Darkling thrush’ in the English Honors class, I could hear a plaintive Keteki singing its heart out inside my heart; the excruciating pain in her singing created an indescribable ecstasy for me.

Dhiman had only a few changes of clothes. But even if clad in ordinary clothes he somehow stood out and attracted instant attention. He did not like my militancy. Whenever the subject of idealism came up, he changed it immediately. Once, only once, did he collide head on with me and said, “I can’t see you getting destroyed slowly. Come I’ll take you to ‘Sir’. ”

I went with him to a Buddhist temple. He introduced me to a Buddhist monk aged about sixty. People said that by twenty, he had finished reading the scriptures of all the religions. He was also a postgraduate in Sanskrit, Philosophy and English literature. At Dhiman’s suggestion, I went to meet him quite regularly with my study books. I also sat kneeling in front of him in the pose of praying. He on the other hand was sitting cross-legged in the padmasana pose at a little distance.

I went with him to a Buddhist temple

However, not long afterwards, both Dhiman and I almost simultaneously realized that the relationship between us hit a dead end, for whatever reason. Even when we were together and discussed something of mutual interest, our hearts were not in it. It was as if we were walking on two parallel lanes determined never to meet again. Of course, we met each other, chatted but we kept our distance as if we feared that at any moment sparks would fly, singing both of us. After sometime our interaction became devoid of warmth, even the physical attraction waned.
Then all of a sudden, a day came when I was to see Dhiman for the last time. We were talking aimlessly that day. He was his usual quiet self and I, as usual, was abrasive. None of us paid attention to what the other was saying. I told Dhiman that after the result of my graduation degree was announced I planned to run away from home taking along my father’s rifle. I revealed it casually, as if it was an everyday affair that a girl like me abandoned home and ran away to the jungle, following many young people searching for something.

Dhiman’s response was a sardonic smile. Then out of the blue he announced, ‘Next week I’ll be gone from Assam forever. Tomorrow I’ll bid farewell to this town. You know very well that I can’t find solace in the gun as you do. I feel suffocated at the smell of gunpowder. But these arms which refuse to hold a rifle can give shelter to someone. A woman who has been left abandoned, raped by those so-called keepers of peace. This is how I want to redeem my manhood and responsibility to my motherland. What do you think? So I say good-bye today. Oh, by the way don’t stop going to Sir.”

Just then, a refrain of a song repeated itself in my mind, ‘I see you with one eye full of happiness and the other with tears- I see you with one eye…’.

I went with him to a Buddhist temple. He introduced me to a Buddhist monk aged about sixty. People said that by twenty, he had finished reading the scriptures of all the religions. He was also a postgraduate in Sanskrit, Philosophy and English literature. At Dhiman’s suggestion, I went to meet him quite regularly with my study books. I also sat kneeling in front of him in the pose of praying.

Dhiman went away. The strains of the song still come to me at times, like the whistle of a distant train.

I kept Dhiman’s request. My visits to Sir became more frequent. In fact, till Dhiman left, I had visited the monk only about three times.

After my studies with Sir were over with which he helped me, in his talks he always deviated to other subjects in his soothing voice. He would quote from ‘Yagna-Balkyupanasida’: atma vastuh kamaya putra priyah vabhati…for one’s self-gratification, people come to love other things in this world. Man savors the beauty of the world in his own way. So when self- analysis becomes opaque, a person’s sense of liking and disliking also becomes vague. Today I’ll tell you about shuhogom or tatwamosi which cannot be explained easily.
Later, Sir tried to give me an idea about the inexpressible. ‘Only the great sages– the yoga-sadhakas, are capable of true self-analysis through self-examination. Ordinary people are confined under limits. So only the ones with inner wisdom,while going through the process of acquiring self-knowledge, can get to know about shuhogam or tatwamosi. One has to be an exceptional human being to acquire this self-knowledge. To try to explain this supreme knowledge to a common man is futile. But the one who gains this knowledge is rewarded with paramananda- supreme happiness.”
Then he said, “I shall try to give you an idea about this nebulous experience. Make yourself absolutely still, get absorbed in yourself, travel inward. It will be the first step in your search for tatwamosi– self visualization”.

A few days later, I was kneeling in front of Sir as if taking diksha. Suddenly my eyes travelled upwards. Sir, sitting in his usual padmasana pose, seemed to grow and grow in size. At first, I couldn’t fathom what was happening. When my consciousness took on the phenomena I too seemed to grow in proportion- not as fast as him but expanding nonetheless. Sir was moving towards the sky at great speed. His foot lying horizontally in front of me was already larger than my full body. I stood up to see Sir better but I couldn’t from that angle. If I moved back a few paces perhaps I could. But I somehow knew that if I moved from that position, I would stop expanding, which was still happening though at a slower pace. So I stood rooted to the spot.
I had read about the colossus figure of Buddha at Borobudur in Indonesia. I had been in raptures when I came across a few photographs of the huge figure. Now my familiar Sir too looked like a colossus. His big toe was equal to my head and its nail was like a mirror in front of my eyes. I saw myself clearly in that mirror for the first time. Scrutinizing more intently for the second time, I saw my brain, veins, heart and the intestines. Next, I saw my skeleton devoid of flesh and blood. At the fourth glance I only saw the magnetic circle around my earthly being. The mirror was getting bigger. I did not wait. I quickly pressed my head on that mirror.

The End

Images courtesy: Pxhere, Wikimedia Commons

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