The Fateful Evening
by Sharmila Roy Ghosal
(Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India)
Barrackpore, a small town was situated a few kilometres from Kolkata. My father had recently been transferred here from the State Bank of India Kolkata branch. Life was enjoyable. Every day in the evening I would go for a walk near the riverside with Malati di, who lived with us and did the household chores.
Boats would ferry people to and fro, from one side of the river to the other. One day while I was out for a walk, I met the Head Master of a Bengali medium school, situated on the other side of the river, Ratan Sir, he was universally called.
A light tap on my shoulder made me turn around. A middle-aged man with a very kind face smiled at me as he held my favourite doll in his hand. “I think you dropped it,” he said. I nodded happily as I held out my hand for my toy. “What is her name?” The gentleman asked. “Rini”. I replied. “And what is yours?” He had such a gentle voice. “My name is Keya”. I said. “It is a name of a flower”. He paused, “My daughter’s name is Keya too."
As days passed, I came to know my namesake. Even though we lived at a distance, we would visit each other’s houses and play during the weekends. On my ninth birthday, Ratan Sir presented me with a book of poems by Rabindranath Tagore.
The love and respect that the people of Barrackpore
had for this school teacher were tremendous. Needy students were taught free by Ratan Sir. Any boy or girl who could not buy books was given financial help.
A small pup cold and abandoned had found shelter with the teacher’s family. Every day when it was time for his master’s boat to come in, Rocky would make his way to the bank and accompany his master home.
It was a stormy evening, the wind was blowing violently, and the sky was overcast. There was something eerie about the evening. People preferred to stay indoors rather than venture out. Suddenly, the atmosphere was pierced with cries of people trying desperately to save themselves, a boat had capsized in the river.
The inclement weather continued for two days. Life was paralyzed. Telephone lines were uprooted. Mobiles were not in use in those days, and there was no contact between people. It was on the third day that the weather had cleared up. I was out for a walk with Malti di when I saw some bodies retrieved from the river being carried.
I stood rooted to the spot when I saw Ratan Sir’s body being carried to his house. The body was bloated, but the kindness on his face had not left him. It was a nerve-shattering experience for a nine-year-old girl. Years have passed by, and I have my own family now, but to this day I cannot forget the incident of that fateful evening.*****