"Aunt of a Nephew" by Nirendra Dev : An English Short Story (WBRi Online Magazine)

Aunt of a Nephew

By Nirendra Dev

A Short Story


Nirendra Narayan DevEditor's Note: Nirendra Narayan Dev (nirendev1 [at] gmail [dot] com), an acclaimed political journalist, is a special correspondent of The Statesman, New Delhi and author of the books Ayodhya : Battle For Peace, The Talking Guns North East India and Godhra A Journey To Mayhem. Nirendra was born and brought up in India's northeast and his father served with paramilitary force Assam Rifles. His blog is at bestofindiarestofindia.blogspot.com.

We have previously had an opportunity of talking to the author and have posted the audio recording of the interview.

WBRi has the pleasure of publishing a series of short stories by Nirendra. Search with keywords "Nirendra Dev" to read his prior stories and articles on Washington Bangla Radio.


It was still an age of mythmakers in relationship. An era – people still talked of love, values, gratitude where in a virtual inauguration of a new world of ruthless naked selfishness was still nearly a decade away. But it’s like the characters of a story spread over three generations. At one point of time, characters do change their positions.

The difference between selfishness or gratitude and the common sense or pragmatism is like a thin borderline between India and some of its neighbours – partitioned by very porous borders.

Rudra Kumar had a world of his own – pursuing an excellent academic career, and looking ahead in search for a bright professional onward journey in the future.

Rudra has been a struggler in more ways than one. Sitting in a corner of his spacious two-room flat, his memories were mushrooming about the past. His childhood days, high school days and then the hard-work to make his own identity; nothing came easily.

The bitterness of his past would render his eyes red and teary. He just could not get the turbulent days out of his thoughts.

He felt angry towards his father for his single minded decision to keep him away from home. As a Class VIII boy, of course, he remembers feeling excited when the idea was first mooted.

“Away from home and step mother …. Life will be fun,” he had thought but such a feeling remained good thoughts only.

Life is not all that pleasure when you are away from home. But it has to be lived and then only one can realize that there is also tension and brickbats.

A step mother in the vicinity of your own known courtyard is perhaps a better choice than the strange world outside.

Rudra was kept in a hostel in the big city, where one of his aunts also resided. Rudra’s father thought his sister can be a good local guardian to his son.

The hostel life used to be monotonous and often ‘charm-less’ especially with the dull food.

Thus Rudra used to slip away to the aunt’s house often for weekends and brief holidays like Durga Pooja or Good Friday week.

But situation like that also demanded a small price. His aunt started missing him for her houseboy jobs; and thus Rudra’s staying with his aunt became a regular feature even on working days.

The aunt was all alone. So both of them needed each other; often confiding in each other.

His interaction with parents remained confined to long letters. At times, he would wake up in the early morning crying and remembering his father’s scolding or even step mother’s reprimand. He used to miss them.

But standing in front of mirror and gazing at his thin line of moustache above lips, Rudra would pose a pragmatic and grown up face. Rudra tried to live the life as it came.

He used to often open up his father’s letters. Once the old man had written, that life also meant new adventures. “When something new comes or you are traveling into a distant fairy land, forget many things of the past…. It is not being selfish. You must adapt to the new situation. You would often face the tussle between brain and heart and I would not say which one you should choose. The best judge is oneself”.

As days rolled by, Rudra tried to figure out the deeper and real meaning of the letters. Sometimes, he thought he understood everything; but at times he was clueless.

The aunt was of little help in resolving these issues. She would demand that he put on long hours studying and then doing well academically.

“After all, my brother is putting a lot of money after you. Why don’t you study?” she would often scream little realizing that Rudra’s young mind was looking for answers to some other questions.

Often walking back from the school in the sunny afternoon, Rudra used to feel a stirring of some questions inside him.

Was he pre-destined to be away from parents? Everything in life happens due to some past – wrong things for doing something wrong. Did he really commit something wrong? Did he ever punish the poor cat back home mercilessly?

These thoughts made him barren. He was like a drowning person, trying to get support from that proverbial thin straw.

But he hardly believed in some extra-ordinary bravado. Apparently, he did not want to resist the situation he was in. Was he like a bird in a hunter’s net or the helpless creature which had lost the will of beating the wings?

For him, he and his aunt and her world slowly but gradually was becoming his world too. He became conscious of his religious identity. His father – back home was a left minded gentleman who strongly believed in secularism or irreligious sentiments. But the aunt was different. Her associates and friends circle was different. They all swore by the concept of reviving Hindu renaissance; something of which he understood very little.

His aunt and her friends would often smile at him as Rudra offered them tea and biscuits. He was least bothered about their ideology of United Hindu Movement. Some of those who came for weekly meeting at his aunt’s place would give intimate smile. As if they knew in and out of Rudra Kumar. "Yes, you are a bad Hindu. But we will make a better Hindu out of you,” one of them said once.

Rudra still remained indifferent. For him, basic questions were somewhere away and something else.

“Was it right for his father to dump him like this in a strange place?”

Why his step mother never understood him? And occasionally he gazed into the distance above aimlessly towards the cloudy night sky and wonder, what were his aunt and her friends up to.

The principle of pluralism that his father prescribed and practiced strongly was lacking. Gradually, he was being dragged towards an irrational hatred for Muslims and even Christians.

Why is it, he wondered as he used to get lulled to sleep by the slow movement of the breeze near his window.

Once he developed some courage and penned a few lines to his younger brother back home. “Away from home, I now realize how difficult is to uphold the values you hold dear to your heart. Moreover, whatever father taught seems to have no place in a world wherein my own aunt is spreading canard about other communities.

Frankly, I don’t blame her or those associated with United Hindu Movement. What the other side, the Muslims, is doing is also equally painful if not more. My aunt and her friends are only getting provoked; at least this is how they justify their philosophy and actions.

I am not being idealist. The atmosphere in this city is so vitiated. The ghettoisation of various communities is the order of the day. This city has a Muslim colony – called semi-Pakistan; a Christian-stronghold called borderline – I do not know why -- and also colonies for Madrasi Hindus, Gujarati Hindus and Punjabis….

Our aunt’s friends have taken upon themselves some responsibilities of protecting Hindus. – Love - Your brother Rudra”.

§

Rudra woke up to the buzz of the cell phone. His aunt was on the other side. Years have passed. Memories, his father used to say, are like floodgates – they can easily open during downpour but difficult to close.

Today, he no longer believes in his father’s theories. Aunt’s pragmatism has won the battle. In the battle of mind and heart --- he knows, mind should prevail.

He has joined police force. So, he has power. He tells his aunt, “yes, I can handle it”.

“What will we do?” – aunt asked.

“We will make up a case. We will justify the act as an act of defence by two helpless young girls. They opened fire and shot down the deputy commissioner when he tried to molest them. The deputy commissioner was behaving as an agent of minorities”.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, aunty. These are nothing new. In this part of the city, often Hindu youths are taken into custody and beaten. It’s natural, most end up becoming angry. Muslim youths often burn flags especially on days, Indian cricket team loses in Pakistan.

“It’s sad. But it is also true, Hindus have been forced to take up arms,” summed up his aunt.

- Next day, Rudra returned to his flat yet again after a long day. All arrangements have been made. No commission of inquiry would be able to find out that the murder of the deputy commissioner was pre-planned.

A lazy summer wind raised yellow dust outside. He played the CD player. It was an old Kishore Kumar song, “…. Aaj safar mein aakar kyon chhor diya mera saath (Why you have left me dear after treading the tedious path together)”. Rudra Kumar remembered his father, a traditional and an idealist.

Did Rudra Kumar ultimately also give up the path his father had shown, he wondered whilst he pictured the slain deputy commissioner’s house – wherein his widow Mrs Rehana Ali put a protective arm around her three-year-old son and stood lowering her head in anxiety of the unknown days ahead. Rudra knew his aunt has made so much difference in his life.


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