For about fifteen days my nonagenarian father was not keeping well. As usual I was by his bedside. It was a quiet winter night of January this year. To keep him warm, all the doors and windows were tightly shut. His room in the corner of the house was so located that one could hardly hear any outside noise.

For about fifteen days my nonagenarian father was not keeping well. As usual I was by his bedside. It was a quiet winter night of January this year. To keep him warm, all the doors and windows were tightly shut. His room in the corner of the house was so located that one could hardly hear any outside noise.

We were not conversing. However, the silence was punctured by his rapid breaths. It was the only sound that made our presence obvious.

I was gazing at him for some time and fervently praying for his early recovery in silence. When he sensed my presence there, he pulled over the quilt just to hide his face underneath.

By then, I had already noticed the streams of tears flowing quietly down sideways. His pillows had become wet. I realized that he did not want to make it obvious that he was in some pains. A self-made man, he had never desired to live on anyone’s mercy. As usual his hands were folded in prayers.

I remembered how in the good old days gone by, often we discussed about the rise and fall of mighty people, human pride and follies. He would comment- ‘Time speaks’. He would explain the temporariness of all our situations and maintain cool. He would urge to follow only the divine designs through several examples and anecdotes from the real life. He had led a life of simplicity and high moral standards being a true follower of Shri Chaitanya Mahapravu and a firm believer in Karma & Dharma. Due to his simple life style, he was free from common ailments like high blood pressure, diabetics etc. However, the tall man was floored due to aging. His emaciated body was like a moth-eaten old shirt. He was fully aware that he won’t be the same young man again as no one could travel back in time.

Just to make him feel better I asked if he was worried or anything was bothering him. He hesitated to speak anything and had no complaints. He responded that he was feeling sorry for the inconvenience caused to me, family members and others who were making arrangement for his treatment, care and attention.

I saw him raising his folded hands upwards and softly uttering why at all he was subjected to ailments due to which he was being taken from one hospital to another and undergoing various tests and treatment. He held the view that since he never harmed anyone in his lifetime nor bore any grudge against even those who had troubled him, he should not be undergoing any physical pain. He was begging for the God’s mercy and awaiting His judgement. He was in full consciousness and was trying to listen to what the Time was speaking, his oft repeated saying, though his prayers.

Two days later, on 10 January 2024, he felt trouble in breathing in the early morning. We rushed him to All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Bhubaneswar where he was undergoing treatment for about a week. He was attended to by a team of able doctors and professionals. However, he breathed his last during the treatment in few hours. As I observed for last few years, he did not want any kind of prolonged sufferings or to be a burden on others. His prayer was listened to by the God.

He was born in the year 1932 in a remote village Narasinghapur under Bhograi Block of Odisha bordering Bengal state. A separate state of Odisha was formed, four years later. He received education in the village school. Even as a child, he had to shoulder the responsibilities of looking after a mentally deranged brother and a bed ridden mother suffering from acute asthma. He dropped out of school at the tender age of ten following the death of his father. I had heard him narrating the Bengal famine of 1943 due to failure of crops at that time.

Following the fury of a mega cyclone, all the life’s support was uprooted. The devastation, crop loss worsened the miseries. No one in the locality fathomed how the stock of rice vanished so soon and there was steep rise in prices of cereals in the markets where people thronged. He heard stories that soldiers fighting the world war were needing food for which most of the grains got diverted there.

The landlords of the village downed the shutters and did not show up. There was nothing left to mortgage so the money lenders won’t help. While the rich hoarded stock and guarded their granaries, everyone was clueless when the bad time would be over.

The lesser mortals in the village looked for whatever was available in the wild, they could consume. The tamarind tree was denuded. Still luckier ones in their homes made tasteless porridges of pumpkin, gourds, edible roots for filling up their guts.

In his neighborhood, a married daughter of a family came seeking for her father’s help. She was chased away in the ugliest manner by her father and four brothers as none would share food. The lady never went back to her husband’s home and no one knew what happened to her.

Barely ten years old, my father as a child was blessed with a great strength in the mind. Walking on bare feet several miles, toiling hard day and night, he took up small trade of rice business and gathered some relief for his family to survive.

The villages became deserted. The destitute trekked to towns abandoning their families, carrying only empty tin pots in the hand for begging. Men and women were bereft of strength, their bodies resembled as live skeletons. Only the village Chowkidar guarded the village border and plundered whatever he found with the strangers.

The passers-by on the main street didn’t notice how many badly emaciated bodies, crying and coughing children, many stark naked, homeless, motherless and fatherless were moving to the towns hoping to find some relief.

No one then was awe struck finding the human skull and the bones strewn around. The filth was ubiquitous and the countryside was appalling. The temples had gone silent and no prayer was on the lips of anyone. My father felt that all human emotions had simply died.

On his way to Jaleswar town, he once spotted a merciless sweeper. He was dragging a human body to a ditch by tying a rope around the neck. No one made efforts to bury the bodies or do anything respectfully.

Eight decades later, still recounting vividly as a survivor of a failed monsoon he would narrate with a great pain how the living and frail humans became the easy preys, which the vultures and Jackals, stray dogs feasted joyfully.

On a large ground near the railway line at Jaleswar, there was a mountain of bodies, skulls, bones. The dump was as a result of cleaning by the Municipal authority which picked up the men and women fallen on roads without verifying if anyone was still alive.

Once my father painfully observed that a man and a woman holding each other had traveled together to the town in the hope of provision there. When the man lost all his strength, the poor lady could hardly help. Only she took the man to the mound of dead bodies and pushed him to be with those ill-fated and hoping the Municipality to perform his rites.

Hearing such hair-raising experiences would make me feel about the fearlessness, strength, stamina and grit of my father, who could fight any battle in life.

He grew up and was lucky to become a well to do person with hard labour and got married. As soon as he tasted prosperity, he had to face a very hostile environment in the village due to jealously and politics. In fifties and sixties, there was no good government administration in our remote rural area.

He had to fight the feudal system to keep his family safe, contest court cases and encourage his son to dream to be a District Collector. His life and struggle are a story to the people of his area.

Many of us might have played in a game of our childhood, when we would shoot small stone pieces by using a simple looking device called a catapult made of a forked wooden stick and fastened with an elastic leather band on its two prongs.

I recollect the face of a dexterous neighbor who would take extra care by collecting the good clay, mixing with water in right proportion while making tiny balls. He would then sundry those for several days producing very hard bullets.

He would use those bullets and his skill very frequently to scare away the troops of monkeys invading our village and destroying the farmers’ vegetables and fruits.

Those were the dark days several decades ago when the Rule of law hardly existed in our remote village, not having any road connectivity and electricity. There was a gloom in the village after murder of a villager by drowning in a fish pond by the Gram Rakshi and his accomplices.

Soon after the sunset all the houses were locked covering the village under a veil of deep darkness. If ever someone needed a help, even the loudest of the cries won’t reach anyone. One had to wait till sunrise therefore.

With the passage of time and the turn of events, following a village dispute our relationships became bitter. All the neighbors got united on the east and west. To chase us way was their mission and they won’t let us stay there.

Groups of irate men calling each other while yelling at my family, hurling the choicest abuses, surrounding us on three sides, often rushed towards our house over the hedges, quite unprovoked in the night.

My scared parents along with three little children, carrying two bullocks, guided under a lantern light, expecting no outside help feared the losses of their lives. We would scamper away from the northern side while the catapult expert rained bullets hitting all of us in the stark dark nights.

The struggle for survival continued. My father always believed that God was there to help him. In a long struggle for justice, the district collector of Balasore ordered for restoration of last two pieces of his land in a case under section 59 (1) of the Odisha Land Reforms Act in the year 1999.

Despite all the adversities, my father lived till the age of ninety-two as an ideal man in the area. He had made us resilient. The dark nights are over now. The aggressors are gone in their own tragic ways. My father saw the grace of God brightly visible in his long-life span. The bullet marks on my body which I am carrying since my childhood however reminds a chilling story only a few remember.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Prof P V Satyam, iit bbs

    January 15, 2024 at 4:22 pm

    Sri Bishnupada babu, The tears slowly flown due to your heartfelt love and respect for your father are the signature that carry our deep condolence on the physical loss of your beloved father. Your fathers Karma and Dharma and his wish to have of one of his son to be a District collector is a true signature of hard and sincere efforts by you. Our condolences to your family. You have extended your father wishes to all humanity around you, carrying the humanity and sincerity as ypur path. May god give you and your family more strength at this junture. Our prayers are with you. Regards, Satyam

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