My grandmother was an active lady who loved and lived for her family. Her life revolved around her husband, children and grandchildren. As a little girl, I remember her always busy, attending the endless relatives who used to visit our home. She had great culinary skills and she loved to feed people. She always made sure that who ever visited our home, should never leave in an empty stomach.
It was during one such day, when I met Durga. I was fourteen years old and she was around eighteen. She used to work in one of our relatives house, and had hence accompanied her to our home. Durga sat in one corner oblivion to all the noise and chattering. She looked very quiet and shy.
My grandmother, who had by that time served all the guests, looked at Durga and called her to the kitchen. I was curious to know why my grandmother had called her. In the kitchen, I saw my grandmother put a plate for Durga, filled with all the delicacies she had cooked that day. It was obvious that Durga was not used to such attention. She stood still looking at the plate. My grandmother then took her by the hand and made her sit on a small chair. Then she handed over the plate to her and very politely asked her to eat.
At night, when all the guests had left, I saw my grandmother sitting pensively near the window. She was quieter than usual. At first, I thought that she was tired, but after a minute or so I realized that there were tears in her eyes. That was the first time in my entire fourteen years life that I saw her crying. I asked her very gently what was the reason for her sudden grief. She hesitated a bit and then started narrating a story – a story about a girl called Durga.
As a young girl of around eight years, my grandmother used to live in Rajshahi, which is now a part of Bangladesh. This was before our country got independence from the British rule. My grandmother had a very dear friend named Durga. They were like soul sisters. They spent the entire day playing with dolls, running on the fields, climbing trees, and swimming in the pond.
Since Durga belonged to a much poorer family, she used to have her lunch and dinner at my grandmother’s place almost all the days. This friendship continued like this for almost a decade until the time my grandmother got married and shifted to Calcutta, now called Kolkata. Before the final goodbye, my grandmother promised her friend that she’ll come to her wedding whenever that happens.
After shifting to Calcutta, my grandmother became busy with her new life. They did exchange letters, but slowly that decreased in number, until one day, when it finally stopped. My grandmother waited for a reply from Durga, but that never came. In the mean time, India got her much deserved independence. There were riots everywhere. Rajshahi became a part of East Pakistan. Fearing the loss of life, many people fled their homes and ran away to Calcutta and adjoining places.
My grandmother who was by that time had become a mother, asked her relatives about Durga’s whereabouts, but it was not known. Some said that they were killed in the riots and some said they fled to Calcutta. She became busy with kids, family and responsibilities and slowly forgot her promise, until today when she remembered it again seeing another Durga. She shed tears not only for her lost friendship, but also for the unfulfilled promise. She felt guilty for not trying hard to find her friend.
Hearing this story as a child I cried for the friendship and the promise that was not kept. Today as a woman myself, I feel lucky that we have the technology to keep in touch with our friends and families across the world. But what about those women, who didn’t have such technology during their times? Their desires, wishes and promises got sacrificed in the name of duties and responsibilities. I wonder, did they ever live for themselves? Nobody knows the answer!
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