SPELL OF THE SEA

It spelt free­dom from fear.

Woman's Era - - Short Story - By Su­niti Khar­banda “Courage is the most im­por­tant of all the virtues be­cause with­out courage, you cant prac­tice any other virtue con­sis­tently.”

Balu had run away from home when he was just 12. His par­ents were mi­grant labour­ers in Bi­har and could barely feed their fam­ily of seven chil­dren with their daily earn­ings. He was a mid­dle child and was largely ig­nored. Balu’s dreams of a full stom­ach and a per­ma­nent hut made him rest­less. When he heard from a neigh­bour’s vis­it­ing rel­a­tive about the ocean and its bounty of fish, he was hooked. Leav­ing a mes­sage with an older sib­ling, one fine day, he just took off for the lure of the ocean. Walk­ing, tak­ing lifts, a train jour­ney, do­ing odd jobs en route en­abled him to reach his des­ti­na­tion in a few months.

The moist, salty breeze, the lin­ger­ing smell of fish ev­ery­where and

How­ever, tragedy struck and the gas pipe­line burst. The toxic fumes re­sulted in in­stan­ta­neous death for all those present in the com­pres­sor room. Life now was even bet­ter for Balu. He had a steady in­come and a lov­ing wife and home to re­turn to af­ter his daily toils. They were blessed with two sons Sooraj and Badal. The chil­dren also grew up lov­ing the sea and all that it en­tailed.

the early morn­ing ac­tiv­ity of the fish­ing fra­ter­nity had Balu mes­merised. Also his dream of eat­ing well seemed pos­si­ble with fish so read­ily avail­able. Balu took up work with a small fish­er­man in re­turn for a square meal a day. It helped Balu learn the nitty gritty of fish­ing and he was quite con­tent. He was still a child and any spare time he had spent be­ing friends with the sea, run­ning along the beach, swim­ming, build­ing sand cas­tles, col­lect­ing shells.

Sea ac­tiv­i­ties were an end­less source of joy for him. Balu was im­mensely happy.

Time elapsed. Balu was now a young adult. The fish­ing com­mu­nity was his fam­ily now. They pestered him to get mar­ried and found him a suit­able bride, who was an or­phan and, like him, had no fam­ily ties. Balu and Chanda got mar­ried and im­me­di­ately af­ter mar­riage, Balu took Chanda to the sea­side and said, “Chanda, this sea is my fam­ily and my god. Let us seek bless­ings from the sea god so that our life to­gether is joy­ous. May our union be blessed and our wor­ries swept away by the sea”. Say­ing so Balu sprin­kled some sea

wa­ter on Chanda as a bless­ing from the sea god.

Life now was even bet­ter for Balu. He had a steady in­come and a lov­ing wife and home to re­turn to af­ter his daily toils. They blessed with two sons Sooraj and Badal. The chil­dren also grew up lov­ing the sea and all that it en­tailed.

Balu’s hap­pi­ness was on a high wave.

Sooraj was now 13 years old and help­ing his fa­ther on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. When­ever given an op­por­tu­nity he would also take up work in the com­mer­cial boats and ships too. For a three­four-day trip the pay­ment used to be quite good. If the tourists in­cluded for­eign­ers Sooraj would be able to get hefty tips too as he could use a smat­ter­ing of English words and was a cheer­ful com­pan­ion. One fine day, Sooraj was work­ing in one such ship. The com­pres­sor room de­vel­oped a fault in the gas pipe­line and he along with two other sea­men was help­ing con­trol the dam­age. How­ever, tragedy struck and the gas pipe­line burst. The toxic fumes re­sulted in in­stan­ta­neous death for all those present in the com­pres­sor room.

Balu and Chanda were dev­as­tated over Sooraj’s death. They did not want to cry in front of their younger son Badal and would shed quiet tears at the sea­side. Their salty tears mixed with the salt of the sea. There was noth­ing else to be done.

Life con­tin­ued. The daily rou­tine was a com­fort in th­ese try­ing times. In mon­e­tary terms things were quite com­fort­able. There was a de­cent in­come and not much of ex­pen­di­ture, as the sea could take care of most of their needs. Once again the fam­ily learnt to live and laugh. But fate had some­thing else in store.

The tsunami struck and their fish­ing vil­lage was re­duced to rub­ble. Balu, Chanda and Badal took refuge on top of a tree. High winds lashed mer­ci­lessly as they tried to cling on for dear life. They com­forted each other that at least they were all to­gether and could once again start life from the scratch as Balu had done many, many years back. The branch which Balu was hold­ing tight, snapped with his weight and the heavy gales. His last breath was in the sea which he had whole heart­edly loved. He be­came just one more morsel which the sea had swal­lowed.

Balu was now in the eter­nal em­brace of the sea gods.

Overnight, Chanda and Badal had aged. All the joy and laugh­ter had gone from their lives. It was now a mon­u­men­tal strug­gle to re­build a life from the ru­ins; and it was a re­peat story for al­most all their neigh­bours. There was only shared grief all around. Food and wa­ter were scarce. The ocean was con­tam­i­nated with the dead hu­man be­ings and an­i­mals that had found a wa­tery tomb due to the tsunami. Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials warned against eat­ing th­ese fishes as they could be lethal. Chanda and Badal could scarcely heed this warn­ing as they reached near star­va­tion lev­els. They for­aged for fishes, fruits and roots which they could cook and eat. Some­times Chanda slept on an empty stom­ach so that Badal could eat. Other times Badal pre­tended that he had eaten so that his mother could eat a few morsels. Over a pe­riod of time the del­i­cate stom­ach of the child could not di­gest the poi­sonous fish and he writhed in pain. The mother was help­less in the ab­sence of any med­i­cal aid close by. She soothed her ail­ing child hold­ing him close to her and giv­ing him all the love she was ca­pa­ble of. It was to no avail. Badal suc­cumbed to food poi­son­ing.

Chanda once again went to the ocean front.

The en­tire vil­lage was witness to Chanda laugh­ing hys­ter­i­cally hold­ing for­ward her arms to the ocean. A kindly neigh­bour ques­tioned Chanda about her ac­tion.

Chanda’s re­ply si­lenced all of them: “The sea gods have taken ev­ery­one that I loved. They have now lost all abil­ity to harm me as I have got noth­ing to lose. From this mo­ment on I have got free­dom from fear.”

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials warned against eat­ing th­ese fishes as they could be lethal. Chanda and Badal could scarcely heed this warn­ing as they reached near star­va­tion lev­els. Chanda’s re­ply si­lenced all of them: “The sea gods have taken ev­ery­one that I loved. They have now lost all abil­ity to harm me as I have got noth­ing to lose. From this mo­ment on I have got free­dom from fear.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.