Shobuj Bon, Shobuj Pahar - contd
by Ananya Sarkar
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At one point, we could hear the torch bearers cry out in response, "Ho-o-oh!" They seemed to be saying something more. But we could not understand that. All we knew was that they were proceeding towards the mountain itself.
The red flames grew even larger. Now we could see them clearly. Two, three, four! We leaned down from the mountain and yelled. The torch bearers responded again. Gradually, the torches started climbing up the mountain. Alongside, their cries also bounced off the mountain, "Ho-o-oh!"
By now, they had climbed up a certain level. We could hear their agitated chatter. We wanted to run towards them. But how could we go? The dense darkness and thorns prevented us. We cried out and beckoned them. They too responded, "Beware! Beware! Ho-o-oh!!"
Here now, they had arrived. On seeing us from afar, the leader of the group yelled out something. Rajat ran towards him and would have almost tripped, had the man not caught him.
The rest of the group had also climbed up by then. They came forward. The flames from their torches brightened the dark leaves of the trees. The men closely observed us in that light and then one of them spoke, "Why did you climb up the mountain in the evening?"
Rajat started to cry. I told them what had happened. One of the men came forward. Shaking his head, he said, "I was already wondering then why you babus were ascending the mountain at sundown."
I recognized him. While coming up, he was one of the Saanthals climbing downward with firewood. Taking a pause, he resumed, "I knew right then that you would not be able to come down before dusk."
After a few more words, one of the torch bearers turned around. "Now you no longer have to fear," he said. "Come along with us."
The rest of the group also turned. They showed the path ahead and guided us. Gesturing towards boulders and thorny bushes, they frequently warned us to be careful. On the way, one of them said, "You are from the city. Never venture alone on a mountain. Always travel in a group."
"Oh yes!" I managed a feeble smile. Rajat chimed in as well, "Learnt a hard lesson today."
We all came down together. The Saanthal group also accompanied us as we crossed the forest. "Now will you be able to make your way home, babu?" They said once we were onto the clear road.
Rajat and I nodded our heads. The group then sought our permission to part. Suddenly, no words escaped me. I was at a loss! I thrust my hand in my pocket and taking out a currency note, extended it towards the men. On seeing that, the group looked at me in total amazement! One of them said, "Oh dear, babu! Why the money?" One more person joined in, "The fact that you guys didn't have to spend the night on the mountain means a lot, babu. That is reward enough!"
The men firmly refused to take the money. As it is, they were poor people who underwent backbreaking pain simply to earn a rupee. And even then, how easily they declined my money!
I wanted to tell them something. But the words miserably failed to form. Instead, a lump blocked the base of my throat. Such was the situation that I even forgot even to thank them!
The group retreated with loud chatter. I stared long into their direction. My heart went out to these simple people absolutely replete in their selflessness. ***