Friday, April 14, 2017

The Protagonist

How I found my protagonist

My mother was stuck in bed for the last four years of her life as a stroke victim. Though her motor skill was gone her memory was intact, especially the long term one.  She loved telling stories of her childhood days in Mymensingh, before they became a refugee,  after the Partition.  And I loved to listen to those stories.

Living twelve thousand miles away with a window of two weeks vacation time with her, every other year or so did not give me much time, but it gave me a ton of guilt feeling. One day I admitted that to her and she replied, " Even when I am not there any more, memories will.  And the stories.  You may come and visit them as often as you wish, for as long as you want."

What a haunting statement!

After I returned to California to my normal life, and even after she  had passed away for several years, often a little girl visits me.  She catches me in my quiet hours, while I am driving, when I am washing dishes absent mindedly.

"Who are you?"  I ask.


"Where are you from?

"From the past. " She replies.

A lanky little girl of seven or eight years of age, with a missing front tooth, fair as snow, delicate as a fairy calls me waving her tiny fingers.

" Come, I'll show."  She takes me by my hand through a lush garden of overgrown bushes where the smell of  kul overwhelms the air.  She picks one up and puts in my mouth.  The jelly like jujube melts under my tongue.

Blossoms of shiuli phool underneath our feet feel soft.  She picks up a handful and lets them rain.  She smashes them between her fingers.  The orange stems burst into carnelian hues. She smiles.
 " Magic!"

Shiuli Phool

I open my journal and write:



It was a peaceful morning  otherwise, until the news paper came.
I was busy discovering all kinds of magic in our garden that early spring day.  Flower pots on the entry steps  were brimming with bursts of red hibiscus and the white star jasmine crept up the columns and entangled my swing on the porch.  New leaves, as large as elephant’s ears, with the darkest bottle green shade and  tiny dots shot up from the planter box.  I thought the garden fairy must have visited at night and painted those red and white dots on the leaves with sandal wood paste. 
Our ivory color brick house had curved doorways with dark green wooden shutters and through the arched stained glass windows yellow, orange and red lights flooded and  reflected on the floor.  I was playing hop-scotch with the patterns  on the floor and then chasing a tiny white butterfly entered the garden.  Babu, my father, was weeding kneeled down close to the ground with his back facing me. Sweat drops glistened on his almost bald head.  I tip-toed and quickly covered his eyes from behind with my little hands. His glasses flung.  He turned.
“You! Aren’t you cold, little one?” He wrapped me with his soft woolen shawl and picked me up.  I put my head on his shoulder.  Soap, soil, sweat made up my daddy-smell. No one in the whole world smelled the same. 
“What are you doing?”  I asked him.  He got me down. 
        “ Look, these are the  new growth of the seeds we  had planted the other day, but these are no good, just weeds.”  He tried to give me a lesson in gardening. But I turned away, I heard the garden latch clank. 
It was Jasimuddin, our gardener, helper, care taker,  a person whom I saw as my older brother and addressed as Jasim da (brother Jasim).  He was a tall, scrawny person with black beard, and always with a smile on his face.

Jasim da, in a grey, long kurta and his usual  black musselman tupi (cap) was coming with the morning paper in his hand like  he did every day.  I ran to him. “ Jasim da, where is the thing you promised to bring?” 
“Wait a bit more, little sister.” He smiled and handed the news paper to my father. 

I knew Babu would ask for his morning cup of tea now  and go inside.  This would be the end of the garden session for this morning.  But today it was different.  Babu took the morning paper and stretched it out.  And his brows got knitted.  His face looked disturbed.   “What?” he murmured to himself and sat down on the step. He did not get inside, nor did he ask for his tea. I understood something was wrong. 
“ What is it Babu?” I asked.  He glimpsed, not sure how to explain it to a seven year old child and  turned to Jasimuddin.
“ The Lahore Resolution is passed. Passed on March 24th.” 
“ What does that mean, sir?”  Jasim da gazed at his face.
“ It means that the Muslim majority areas are asking for a separate place.  Areas in  the west of India like Lahore, Karachi, and in the east, Bengal do not want to be part of Hindustan,  India,  even when  the British give us freedom.”
“Then what will happen sir?” Jasimuddin asked. 
“ I don’t know. I don’t know how it could be solved, Jasim”  Babu studied his face. 

Jasimuddim lowered his eyes looking at the ground,  his hands folded,  not sure how to respond. 
I went to him and whispered in his ears, “ Jasim da, aren’t you going to ask permission for the puppy now, please?”
“ It’s not a good day, little sister” he mumbled back with a sad face.             



  1. Beautifully written. Can not wait to read more. Keep up the good work Bulbul. We are eagerly waiting.

  2. Thank you Ruma. Plan to give you glimpses of it with the process of writing it. Thank you so much for visiting my blog and your comments are very precious.