“There, can you see it now? No? OK, try this. Pucker your eyes till they’re slits and now look. Do you see ?…… Well?” Naw-Mesho took the little boy’s tiny hand in his, stretched the index finger out and pointed it up at the heavens. Around them, the clear night sparkled with fireflies while a constant background drone of crickets kept on their clamor. Everywhere, all was still.
Naw-Mesho scared the boy, he was so huge. In reality, he was a real cool guy. ‘Mesho’ in Bengali is your mother’s sister’s husband. The ‘Naw-‘ ahead of Mesho is a curious thing. Its like the ‘Additional’ in ‘Additional Secretary’.
Let me explain how it works in Bengal. Suppose your mother has two elder sisters. To her, the eldest is ‘Bordi’ or simply ‘Didi’ and the one in between your mum and Didi is ‘Chordi’. Now if your mother has three elder sisters instead of two (like if your Gramps was catholic about birth control), then the sister between Didi and Chordi is your mother’s Naw-di and to you, she’d be Naw-Mashi and her husband, Naw-Mesho.
Let me know if further illumination is required. If you’re female, I’ll be happy to explain free of charge, if you don’t mind a candle-lit environment.
Even though he was a sweetheart, Naw-Mesho scared the boy all the same. The boy couldn’t see the bright object his uncle was pointing at. He shook his head and stammered,” I..I can’t..”
Naw-Mesho was an infinitely patient man. “Okay, here’s what you do. Don’t look directly at it. Look slightly to the left or right….”
The boy looked slightly to the left at a pitch dark region devoid of stars and there it was! It was just like a broom of the kind that was used in Indian households, a bunch of thin long sal bristles held together by a hemp band. Only, this one was shining white, coated with glittering diamonds. The open end of the bristles seemed slightly curved and pointed at an angle up beyond the horizon.
The boy began nodding his head in excitement,” I see it! I see it!” He started bobbing up and down on his uncle’s lap in the joy of discovery. He looked up at the large man’s face and saw the large man break into a broad grin. Suddenly he stopped short and as Naw-Mesho’s hands gently gripped his shoulders, the boy’s eyes filled and he had a hard time controlling the tears.
The boy had been crying the past three days. Off and on, more on than off. Dada and Chorda (his elder brothers) seemed to be doing much better. They were quieter and more withdrawn. A doctor had dropped by to check on them, taking them aside one by one and speaking to them in low tones.
The boy dared not ask either Dada or Chorda what the doc had wanted. These were not normal older brothers. They were homicidal psychopaths. Dada was a spitting image of Reinhard Heydrich and Chorda, Heinrich Himmler. They were definitely reincarnations of the two above gentlemen, whose souls made a slight detour from Nazi Germany back into the 13th century Khirgiz steppes, to pick up valuable tips on how to maim, from a guy there named Temujin.
If you messed with Dada and Chorda, you stood a good chance of getting a thappor (open-palmed slap on your cheek – whap!) or a gatta (bare-knuckled strike on your shiner – klonk!). Theirs was one team sport you just couldn’t fix in your favor.
The past two days however, the boy could hardly recognize his two elder brothers. They held him in turns and comforted him every chance they got. The frowns of irritation, the naughty murderous looks, the punches and the chimtis….it seemed as if they had never existed. Now they smiled gentle smiles through reddened eyes, smiles that the boy had always craved to see but had never known they existed.
“She’ll be back, you’ll see,” said Naw-Mesho,” Your Ma has just gone away for a while. Don’t you sometimes wish you ran away and became a fighter pilot? It’s something like that”. (The Indo-Pak War was on and those days every kid the boy knew wanted to be Flt Lt Trevor Keelor). Naw-Mesho reached in his pocket and began to dab at the kid’s eyes softly with a kerchief.
The object in the sky was the comet, Ikeya-Seki.
The year – 1965.
And the boy….me.