[This is my translation of the first chapter of Shankha Ghosh’s novella Sokalbelar Alo (The Morning Light). I have been at it for a while and hoping to complete it this year. To my knowledge, this is the only young-adult fiction written in Bangla on the partition of India, narrated exclusively from a boy’s perspective. In Anglophone fiction, we have Bapsi Sidwa’s Cracking India, partition of India narrated from the perspective of Lenny, a young girl.]
It was a long time ago. It is a story of those days when both the Bengals were one. There was a small colony next to the embankment on the Padma. A forest skirted the edges of the colony. On the other side of the forest, the bow-shaped railway line snaked its way. One could hear the booming sound of the passing mail-trains. A few beautiful hamlets dotted the sides of the railway line – one was called Rangpur; the other was Shahpur. On the edge of the colony, one early morning, Nilmadhab woke up with a start.
The sky was flush with the early morning light. He had woken up at the right time. Barun had told him yesterday, “You won’t be able to wake up. I will come by and call you.” Nilmadhab didn’t agree to that. How could that be? That would have been an insult to him. Barun’s house was anyways very close to the Padma. Why would he come to wake him up? That would have been a shame! He was not used to getting up so early. But if one went to bed thinking of waking up early, one did wake up early. Didn’t Nilmadhab wake up early on the day of Saraswati Pujo and on the school re-union day? Did his father wake him up? Or his mother?
Tip-toeing down the bed, he wore the shirt kept on the table. Once he opened the door – Baba was so right – the mind refreshed with the morning breeze. The morning was bathed with that faint bright pre-dawn light. The air was slightly nippy and the faint murmur of daalim leaves – how blessed he felt! There was no point calling Ma now. Ma knew he would visit the Padma in the morning. Opening the main door, Nilmadhab stepped on the road.
Skirting past the scattered houses and the boarding house of the school, the road led to the huge ground. To reach the new colony, one had to traverse the torso of the field. Once he called on Barun, they would go to the tarred road. Keshab was supposed to be waiting for them at the intersection of three roads. The three of them would reach the Padma in the next five minutes. Bultu and friends won’t be able to reach before them. Then what was the point in making such elaborate plans? Gaganbabu bantered in the class, “They are a bunch of lazy sleepers.” But today, the bunch of sleepers would be the one to reach first!
A washed-out light enveloped the morning. Compared to the afternoons and the evenings, how different the field looked now. Silence and soft murmurs wrapped the air around. Walking faster, Nilmadhab thought if it were actually nighttime! Would he not have felt scared? Could he traverse the field alone? Why did he fear the night, he laughed to himself! Thieves? But thieves stole from home. Why would they bother people? There could be snakes, however. But snakes could be found during the day as well. Thinking about his fear at night, Nilmadhab felt eeriness at his back, as if someone was walking past with a thudding noise. No, there was no one. There is no sound, either. He felt a shiver down his spine. Getting scared at dawn! He tried to shift his focus for a while. In his broken voice, he started singing on a high note, ‘Where does this path lead to?’
Samarda sang this song in the school theater just the other day. Samarda received first prize for his performance in the play, Achalayatan. Nilmadhab learnt the song during the performance. He had thought of singing it when he would be alone. Now it came in handy at this untimely moment. But this was not that early either. It was already dawn. The drill-master in his undershirt would come to the crossroads soon! But yes, it was untimely moment for Nilmadhab. Baba might wonder, ‘What! Nilu woke up so early on his own? Nilu?’
This was the road that led to the new colony. Rows of houses lined the road; perpendicular alleyways cut across the road. As if someone drew geometrical figures! The people were still asleep in those houses. How early he woke up today! Nilmadhab felt proud. Walking past the curled-up dog, he quickly reached Barun’s door and whispered, ‘Barun, ei Barun!’ Pausing for a moment, he whispered again, ‘Barun.’ Silence reigned everywhere, ‘Ei Barun’ –
‘Who is there?’ a sleepy voice inquired, ‘who?’
‘Me, Nilu. Won’t you wake up?’
Opening the door in a while, Barun came out and asked, ‘Is it already dawn? What time is it?’
‘I am not sure but won’t be long before dawn breaks. Can’t you see how it’s brightening up?’
‘Just wait. Let me check the time.’
Barun went back. Returning with a brisk pace, he whispered, ‘What have you done! It’s just about 3 O’clock.’
‘Three O’clock! Are you joking?’ As he said this, he felt a shiver and quickly stepped inside the door. Fumbling a little, he said, ‘Three O’clock? So much light – ’
Now he looked up at the sky through the open door. It was a full-moon night and the moon shone bright. It was still night. ‘What a surprise! I was so focused on the field that I never looked up.’
‘You came at this hour. Didn’t you feel scared? That ghostly Dutta house?’
‘I wanted us to reach before Bultu and his friends. I wasn’t thinking of anything else.’
They laughed out.
‘Come inside the room.’
From inside the mosquito net, Arun asked, ‘Who is there, Dada?’
‘Nilu! We will go to the Padma together.’
‘What’s the time now?’
‘Three O’clock. Come, let’s go to bed.’
Nilmadhab still felt embarrassed, ‘How did this happen?’ He lay down next to Barun and said, ‘Can we wake up if we sleep now?’
‘Sleep now. I will wake you up.’