10 min readSep 21, 2019

He could feel the raindrops mixed with sweat trickling down his forehead. His heart was racing, breaths were shorter, his ears were warming up with excitement and anxiety at the same time as his eyes fixated on the black and white ball in front of him. He looked at Anil, his closest friend, his partner in crime in everything but not today. At that moment Anil was his biggest rival, he was the goalkeeper for the other team.

‘This is it!’ Junu told himself. After losing the last match 6–1 goals, Junu felt he desperately needed to win this match for his team Baligaon XI. Both sides played well, no team had been able to score any goal so far. The last couple of minutes remaining for the match to be over when Baligaon XI got the golden opportunity for a penalty kick.

Junu took a deep breath, the petrichor of first rain calmed his nerves. The goal post was marked with two bamboo poles. He knew with Anil as the goalkeeper it wasn’t going to be easy. He looked at Anil again to gauge his coverage over the goal area. He was ready to make a move when he saw Anil’s smiling face suddenly turned grim. Then Junu heard him shout.

“Run Junu, Run!”

Before he could realize what had happened, he felt a piercing pain in his ears. Annada, his aunt was just behind him, holding him captive by his ears.

“Badmash. This is how you are preparing for the test tomorrow? I haven’t seen you at the study table the whole day. This is how you will pass the test ?”

Junu’s dream of being the hero of the day by beating Gorokhiadol washed away with the rain.

“Match is almost over Khuriti. I was planning to finish it and then go to study. I promise”.

He knew any explanation at that point was futile.

“Do you take me for a fool? You think I don’t know your tricks. The game is over for you. Did you finish all the math problems I asked you to solve this morning?”

Junu didn’t have any answers. Since morning he kept postponing working on those math problems. Every time he planned to start, there was always something more important that came up. First, their cow Dharani had given birth to a calf. He had to see and help out. Then Dudu asked him to go fishing, how could he have refused? That would have been rude. Later in the afternoon, they had the match. What could have been more important than winning the game? He thought he could finish math work in the evening. The test was the next day. It was all planned out. He couldn’t understand why she had to be always such a tyrant and ruin all the fun.He saw her pale cheeks flushed red in anger.

As if shouting at him in front of all his friends wasn’t embarrassing enough, she turned her attention to his friends.

“All of you should be ashamed. Tomorrow don’t you all have the math test? I don’t think any of you have prepared for it. I want to see each of you at our house this evening and prepare for the test. 7 pm sharp. Don’t be late.”

Junu could see the other boys dispersing slowly. Even with their back turned towards him, he could feel them sneering at him. He knew none of them will turn up probably except for Anil and Ramen. But he also knew that wouldn’t deter his aunt from persuading them every day to take studies seriously. He saw Dudu, Bhaimon, and Bhaiti continue to play. Many times Junu envied them, he wished he could be like them.No one pushed them to go to school or study. They could do whatever they want the whole day. Dudu and Bhaiti helped their father in the field, but all other times they could do whatever they wanted.

The whole way home they walked in silence, no one spoke a word. His pride collided with her disappointment. By the time they reached home, it was already late for evening prayers. They could already hear the drums in the Naamghar, the Vaishnav temple of the village.

Annada rushed towards the Naamghar, she never missed her morning and evening prayers.

“Wash up and go to your table. I want you to finish solving the math questions before I come back from prayers. ”

Junu clumped towards the tube well with sheer reluctance. His wished he could wash away his anger and frustration along with the mud and sweat. Angry tears were still rolling down his cheeks. He took extra long to wash up as if it would defy Annada’s authority. But he knew it wasn’t going to solve anything. For a moment he hoped she was dead, but immediately he was horrified by the darkness of his own thoughts. ‘Maybe if she went somewhere or got married.’ He thought. But even his nine-year-old tender mind knew that remarriage of a Brahmin widow was unthinkable. He was stuck with her for life. Realizing the futility of his thoughts, Junu finished washing up and dragged himself down to his study table. He opened his algebra book, the whole day’s tiredness caught up with him, it was hard to keep his eyes open, the numbers from the algebra book started to jump around.

“She is bully, you know dada.” in an attempt to strike a conversation to help him stay aware Junu complained to his brother.

Putu, his older brother, who was buried deep in his history book, looked up and smiled as he tried to put things in perspective.

“She does it for your good.” Putu said.

“Yeah, you will say that. You are her pet.”

Junu knew there was no point complaining to Putu. Khuriti and Putu are very tight. For Kruriti always put Putu on the pedestal. He was the ideal student, sincere, did as others expected him to do, always got good grades. It was not as if Junu was terrible in studies, he was very sharp and managed to get good marks, but he just didn’t like to be told when to do what.

Realizing the futility of continuing the discussion with his brother, Junu tried to bring his mind back to the algebra page when a new thought popped into his mind that made his heart jump with joy again. He remembered that he hadn’t been to the cowshed since morning, he needed to go see the newborn calf. Junu named him Rangai because of his red color. He slowly sneaked out to the backyard. The backyard was swarmed with fireflies. He stopped momentarily to admire the darkness of the empty space ablaze with tiny dots of dancing fire. He could hear the clinking sounds from the kitchen. The aroma of freshly caught ‘puthi’ fish fried in mustard oil made him hungry.

‘Mother must be in the kitchen’. He thought.

He tiptoed into the kitchen. He saw his mother was busy frying fish . At the far end of the kitchen, he saw Annanda sitting on the floor, cutting a pumpkin. In the light of the small kerosene lamp, her face looked radiating, yet there was a strange sense of sadness around that.

“Already time to get up from the study table? Did you finish your work?” Annada asked without lifting her head, traces of anger still lingered in her voice.

Annada looked at him. In the dim light of the lamp, the innocence of his face melted her heart. Maybe she was too harsh on him. But many times he didn’t give her any choice. Ananda knew he had a sharp mind, but he was very restless, only if he used his mind for good things.

He watched her as she pulled the big lidded jar of pitha guri, a powered rice flour, took a couple of fistfuls and put that in a big bowl. She, then picked two ripe bananas from the bunch hanging on the side of kitchen railing, added them to the rice flour along with some jaggery, poured a couple of drops of milk, kneaded and shaped the mixture into two balls and placed them into two copper bowls.

“Go call your brother as well to have some Jaalpaan.” She said in a softer tone.

A smile broke through his cracked lips exposing the odd gap left by the recent tooth loss as he ran towards the study to call his brother.

Annada grew up in luxury, her father, Jnanedra Thakur, was an affluent man during British Raj. Someone told Junu that they even had elephants as pets. Junu’s grandfather, Taranath Sharma on the other hand, was a school teacher, even though he was considered and respected as a great scholar, they weren’t rich. Jnanedra Thakur didn’t have much of formal education, but he had great respect for knowledge. Therefore when he heard that Taranath Sharma’s youngest son Saumendra got admission in Presidency College in Calcatta, Jananedra Thakur couldn’t think of anyone more suitable than him to marry his only daughter. Annada was hardy 9–10 years old. At that time it was customary for all Brahmin girls to be married before they reached puberty.

Immediately after marriage Saumendra left for Calcutta and Annada stayed at her parent’s house as per tradition. Only after the young brides reached puberty, they were brought into the groom’s house. But within a year of their marriage, Saumendra died of Malaria in Calcutta. The cold dark memory of that Spring morning in 1938 still haunted her some time. The guilt-laden eyes of her father broke her heart more than anything. She knew he blamed himself for her predicament. Annada wasn’t sure if she could cry for the man she didn’t know and had just met only once. But as they took away her colorful clothes, bangles and wiped the red bindi off her forehead and draped her in white mekhela chadar, she knew her life would never be the same again. She was 11 years old when she got her first period. She insisted on going to her husband’s home. Her father tried to reason with her, there was nothing left there to go. He said. But she was adamant, ‘That is my real home’ , she said. It had been more than a decade and a half now, she never once regretted her decision.

“Nausuwali. Can you come out, I need to discuss something important with you”.

After eating a stomach full of Jaalpaan that Annada made, Junu was back in the study room. While Annada sat nearby trying to mend one of his shirts. In the dim light of the kerosene lamp it was hard to do any stitching, but she wanted to make sure that Junu didn’t sneak out again.

Hearing Junu’s father’s voice, she pulled her aanchal and covered her head. It had been so many years that Annada got married, till today Junu’s father addressed her as Nausuwali,new bride.

Putu looked at Junu and gave a very meaningful smile as he watched Annada walking out of the room.

“What happened ?” Junu whispered.

“Looks like your prayers will be answered soon. I think Khuriti might be getting married again.” Putu said.

“What ?” Junu felt as if his heart stopped for a moment.

“How can she get married ? She is a widow.” He might be only nine, but he wasn’t a fool. Widows getting married is unheard of. It might be a sin to even think about it. In their society, widows were not even allowed to eat any non-vegetarian food, onion, garlic, red lentils. But Junu knew his brother never lied as well.

“Times are changing Junu. I have heard some of the elders in the village talking about widow remarriage movement making its way from Calcutta to Assam as well. There is a big push for allowing windows to get married. I heard Bhabani Bordeuta talking to father the other day about this man from Guwahati, who was looking for a suitable match. He is a very good man I have heard.I think they are thinking about marrying Khuriti to him.”

The very thing he wished the whole evening was probably going to come true, this should have made him jubilant. But Junu couldn’t explain the sudden pang of pain he felt that shook his whole body. As tears almost made him blind, he furiously scribbled on the pages of his notebook to complete the math sums as if finishing these well would somehow convince her not to marry again.

He completed all the sums and placed the notebook neatly on her bed so that it is the first thing she saw when she entered her room. He was extra careful ensuring that he double-checked his work. This time she would be impressed by the way he solved the worker sum and the very complicated simplification algebra tasks. He was very proud of himself.

Once he was done, he went looking for her. She wasn’t in the kitchen, nor in any of her usual places. He finally found her sitting on the verandah, staring aimlessly at the fireflies. He had never seen her sitting idle like that. In the moonlight, he could see the moistness in her eyes.

He ran and hugged her from behind. He wasn’t sure how long he would be able to do that.

“I have finished my work. Will you check? I have completed the complicated sums also. You see, I can do all that. I will not spend time idling around. I will focus on my studies more. Please promise me you will not leave me.” Junu almost choked as he rambled through.

Annada stretched her arms to pull him close and hugged him tightly.

“Only if you promise me one more thing .” She said.

“I will do anything you ask,” He said in desperation.

“You will have to teach me to read and write .”

Junu’s small eyes grew big in wonder.

“What? You don’t know how to read and write? But you always helped us in our studies. How did you correct our essays and maths?”

His animated incredulous look made her laugh.

“I always asked you all to check one another’s work and occasionally took help from your father.“

Junu giggled, realizing his own foolishness.

“I promise Khuriti. We can start right now if you want. But promise me you will not leave.”

Annada looked at Junu for a long time.

“I will never leave you and this home.” She made that promise many years back, she was never going to break that. This was the only family she knew. She didn’t give birth to these boys, but they were her sons too.

She gently stroked his hair as both listened to the silence of the night marred with the sound of crickets. The soothing touch of her gentle fingers lulled him into sleep in her lap.

“Wake up , dinner is yet to be ready. And you haven’t finished your history lessons for today” . She gently whispered.

But Junu was in a deep sleep. She could see the dried tears near his eyes, but he had a peaceful smile. History lesson could wait for another day, she thought.