It was mid-April morning, a couple of days after the Naboborsho (Bengali New Year), the Mitra family, renting at the first floor of Bhattacharjee brothers’ three-storey building, was busy more than usual, more than other days.
The young morning sun was falling on the big king-size bed. The reflected light from the yellow-white mixed floral bed sheet lighting the room profusely. The room was a big one like that found in old Kolkata houses. The reflected light making the room look bigger unusually.
“Ma, (I) don’t want to go to this school…” Sangbad pleaded as Aparajita, his mother, was combing his hair for the third time. She doesn’t revert back; instead, tighten her grip of fingers that were holding her son’s cheek in an attempt to halt his head impromptu movements due to repeated plea.
“Please…there are Suman, Utsab, Tina…they are my friends….please Ma…” his pleading continuing.
Aparajita put the comb in her bun and started tucking his shirt inside his half pant. Sangbad holds his mother’s hand and pleaded again in a broken voice now.
“There will be a lot of friends waiting for you there…” Aparajita, at last, replied while adjusting the collar of his shirt.
“Ma, I don’t want new friends…the old friends were best…” he replied back instantly. He was reluctant to make his Ma accept his pleading.
Aparajita again took up the comb as he had untidy his hair as the protest and said softly “you will like them also…”
He holds her hand and said, “Ma, I do not want a new friend…”
“Ma I do not want to go to school.” It was Sraboni, his elder sister, who was teasing him by mocking him. She enters the room through the door that was beside the mirror.
The door leads to an asbestos shaded walkway to the tiny concreted space which serves as the place for washing utensils and clothes. The bathroom was just beside it.
Sraboni was a lady in her late teen. She was of medium height and strong stature. She had inherited her glowing beauty from her mother, which got redefine by the radiant opulent light of the morning. She had passed Higher Secondary that year with distinction. She was studying Zoology honors at Charuchandra College.
He looked at her and say “Didi you also…I do not want to talk with you…”
She threw her towel on the dressing table and after snatching the comb from her mother she said, while combing her brother’s hair, “I will be at home, before you, to listen to your story of your first day…”
Aparajita looked at the brother-sister in their reflection in the mirror. She surpassed the water in her eyes and walked hastily to the dining room cum kitchen. She had to serve the boiled rice on a plate smeared with ghee and had to put it in front of the noisy table fan to cool it down.
“Now, hurry up…go have your meal… we’ll be late otherwise…in the meanwhile let me get ready….” Srabani said while pushing the cane stool he was standing on. He gave a little jump and walk dragging his legs towards the dining. He was disheartened to have his plea being turned down.
“Now, you shall pranam your father and grandfather,” Aparajita said after tying the knot of his shoes and combing his hair with her fingers.
His father had passed away when he was five–six years back from then. Then his grandfather had passed away within two years–he was seven then. He pranam their framed picture and touched his Ma’s feet as he saw his Didi doing that. Sraboni gave smile looking at the portraits.
“Is our king going to school…” said Pradip, owner of the tea shop at the corner of the alley.
Sangbad said in a failed heavy voice “yes, Silver Star School…”
“Go quickly or you’ll be late…we’ll hear your story once you’re back from school…”, said Shambhu Kaku while sipping his morning tea sitting on the bench of the shop. He was the elder of the five Mondal brothers who own the steel workshop Bhavani Engineering Shop at opposite the tea shop.
Sraboni said, “yes, we’ll be late..bid them goodbye…”
“Can I drop him…you’ll be late for college…” Samir, another Mondal brother–the fourth one, said as he stopped before entering the workshop.
“No…it’s okay…it’s his first day there…so, let me drop him for today…you can drop him from tomorrow…okay, we should move on, otherwise he’ll be late on the first day…” she said after looking at her wrist watch.
Sangbad was going to accept the proposal of the cycle ride, but, he senses Didi want to drop him at school. So he remains quiet. Roaming around on Samir Kaku’s cycle was the one thing he loved most.
“Okay…if I’m not full of hand, I’ll pick him up after school…” Samir Kaku said after rubbing his cheek and passing him a lozenge–the mango one–he loved most. Didi looked at them scornfully ’cause a few weeks ago one of his teeth had to be plucked off for getting germed and the doctor had warned to keep him away from all sorts of excessively contaminated sweets like this mango flavored logenze. He bid them goodbye and hold his sister hand tightly. He was scared of car crowded street.
Sraboni looked for an empty rickshaw but finding one was hard during the rush hour. So the brother and sister kept on walking. The school was about eight or so minute from their home.
The Silver Star School was then only a year old. It was founded by a group of teachers from some of the South Kolkata prominent schools. The school was set up on the first floor of a run-out-of-business metal workshop at one side of the Kasba Rathtala Minibus stand. The school then had class one to six. And planned to extend more in next one year from then. The school became a popular one when the news spread of the teachers being from prominent schools of Southern Kolkata; along with it join the low fee structure that goes well with the economic stature of the area–middle class and lower-middle class.
Sangbad had been admitted because Aparajita can’t afford the fee of the renowned school he was studying from Nursery till class four.
After the Operation Sunshine*** near to four years had passed then. She had tried hard for the last couple of years. But, college fee and the increasing expenses related to studies of Sraboni let her take the decision of changing school of Sangbad.
When Sraboni and her brother reached the school, five minutes was left to ten. The class would be commencing from ten. She stopped in front of the paan shop opposite the school and bought a hefty quantity of Eclairs. She took one from the lot and passed the remaining to her brother.
“These are for you…” She said while putting the thonga** in his bag.
He asked, “what are this for…”
She after crossing the road, replied, “if you make new friend give it to them…now go otherwise you will be late for the first class…”
He smiles at her and leaves her hand. She pushed him softly and soon he was one of the crowds of the little fellow. She leaves a sigh. Her brother was not so smart to compare to other boys of his age. He was introvert and shy, but, once he gets acquainted or gets accustomed he was an extrovert boy.
As Sangbad enter the gate, she turned around and walked a little towards the road to board the public bus that’ll en route to her college. The Minibus there doesn’t match her route.
*Operation Sunshine was launched by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation in 1996. It was the first sustained campaign to clear some of the city’s crowded pavements of hawkers from the populated area like Gariahat.
**small packet made from old newspaper or scraped papers from copies, books, etc.