There is no river here

A long short story: Episode 1

5 min readApr 11, 2021

1942, Assam, Colonial India

Through the narrow rambling trail by the dying river, ten-year-old Bapukan ran with all his might. Drenched in sweat, his discolored banian clung to his thin hunger-clad body. His frail naked feet bled from the torture of thorns and spikey stones. And yet, under the merciless July sun, he continued to run. He had no time to lose. “The package has arrived ”. That was the message from Jibon kokai, the leader of Mrityunjoy Bahihini, the local freedom fighter unit. Bapukan needed to inform the rest of the group waiting near the old king’s tomb. His thirsty eyes scanned for some water in the river, but the muddy dying river had nothing to offer. He kept running….

Kajollota wiped the sweat from her forehead with the aanchal of her blue-bordered chador. Her heart was racing like a wild horse. Her usually calm nerves were fiercely defiant.

What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?

What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?

What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

John Keats’ words played in her mind in a repeated loop. She drew a long deep breath, the crisp warm air loaded with the fragrance of ripe jackfruit embalmed her jittery nerves as if she was back in her happy place, the secluded cave by the river, the lone jackfruit tree, and a sky full of stars.

kuu kuu kuu..

It took her some time to fully process the Cuckoo’s call. For a moment, she felt as if the spring festival of Bihu was around the corner. She imagined herself in traditional Assamese attire of Muga silk mekhela chadar,with a bright red vermilion bindi on her forehead and bright purple and white Kapau orchid in her bun, eager to sway her body with the rhythm of the native instruments of Dhol, Pepa, Gogona.

Kajollota ! Come back to reality. This is not the time! Her rational mind forcibly tried to bring her back to reality, but her heart ached to dream more. She hadn’t dreamt in a long time; she wanted to dream about him, wanted to think about his kind and gentle eyes, wanted to feel his soft touch on her forehead. He was like the long-forgotten dream she tried to remember desperately. May be another day, she told herself.

In this part of the country, Cuckoo didn’t call in summer. Kajollata knew it was Monai signaling her to be prepared. She was ready much before Bapukon brought the news of Assistant Commissioner Turner’s arrival from Kolkata. But how prepared could she be to kill a man, to take a life? She didn’t dare to delve deep into that thought. It had to be done. She couldn’t show weakness.

The whole country was in the frenzy of the British Quit India Movement. The small village in the remote corner of north east India was not untouched. British came in as merchants and became the rulers. The colonial Raj had been systematically exploiting and looting the wealth of the country for almost 200 years , treating people like slaves, collapsing the whole economy with heavy taxes, killing native industries one after other, forcing people to come to the streets, lose their right to live with dignity. But no more, Kajollota whispered as she picked up the binocular lying next to her. The whole country was coming together to fight for freedom. No more slavery, we will be free . She reassured herself.

The hillock behind the old king’s tomb boasted of the most splendid view of the beautiful valley below. It had the undisturbed view of the spiral road that ran parallel to the dying river. So many memories here. She thought. Flashes of the beautiful moments spent on that very spot made her nostalgic. Kajollata adjusted her position behind the pile of rocks. Looking through the lenses of her binocular, she could see the Black Alvis Firebird racing through the village road, splashing dust all around. She could feel the arrogance oozing out of the car as if it owned the road, owned all the people.

It is our land .you have to go back . Her inner voice screamed within as she picked up the rifle lying next to her and aimed at the moving car, trying to calibrate the range. This is a bigger fight, bigger than any one of us. She tried to convince herself for the last time. This is for the country. Maybe Gandhi is right from his perspective, ahimsa and peaceful protest may be the answer someday. But not today, at least not when British officers are mercilessly gunning peaceful protesters everywhere. This needs a tough response. Brushing her fingers through the trigger, fondling it, a satisfactory smile flipped through her lips. Once she pulled this trigger, history would change forever for Raibahadur Dwaraka Prasad Bezborua’s family. The family which had been faithful to the British Raj for generations, had rebellion running through its veins now.

The car was coming to the range. Kajollota looked through the eyepiece, trying to zero down on her target. She could see his golden hair dancing in the wind. Then she saw the blue eyes carrying the depth of the sea in them. In flash, her life passed in front of her. For a moment, she froze.

“A thing of beauty Joy forever! What does it mean Robert? Why do poets have to be so cryptic?” Nine-year-old Kajollota complained to her best friend Robert as both of them stood by the river discussing poetry that they hardly understood.

“Otherwise, we wouldn’t value them as much silly”. He held her hand as both jumped into the river, splashing water everywhere. Innocent laughter lingered in the air for a long time.

The car continued to speed. Kajollota had only a couple of seconds to make a decision. She remembered her brother’s unrecognizably bruised body tortured by British police. There was no room for doubt. For the last time, she looked at Robert’s carefree, smiling face. She could feel the excitement behind that smile. At that moment probably he was thinking of her, thinking of all the time they spent by this river. But maybe like the river, their love was dying too. Her quivering fingers found the strength to pull the trigger. In an instant, it was over. The car came to a screeching halt. A small trail of blood trickled down the dusty road. Paralyzed with fear, the driver didn’t stir from his seat. It took him some time to come out of that initial shock and look back at Bara Saheb in the passenger seat. His scream resonated through the hillocks and the paddy fields around. Soon the lonely road would be filled with crowd. The newspapers woud flash the headlines — The new Regional Assistance Commissioner of Police Robert Turner is killed by a freedom fighter group. The search for the members of Mrityunjoy Bahihini would be intensified. Kajollota picked up the rifle and slowly walked towards the thick jungle over the hillock. She was in no hurry. She had just shot her best friend, her soulmate, maybe the man she ever loved. She had no interest in running away from anyone.

to be continued…