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Certain regional words have been used in this story.

  1. Saki Earthen lamp
  2. Naam Ghar A religious place within the household where sacred hymns are sung
  3. Naam Sacred hymns
  4. Mekhela Chadar A unique silken fabric found in Assam
  5. Aai Mother
  6. Pagladiya A tributary of the mighty Brahmaputra river.
  7. Swargarath The vehicle wherein the final journey is undertaken.
  8. Gopala gobinda A famous sacred hymn.

?SAKI ? the earthen lamp’

The sun had not yet risen; hovering dark clouds hid the sky; while Narayan paced back and forth in the porch, his ears twitching in anticipation after every few minutes. Beads of sweat dribbled over his strong boatman arms. He could hear the murmur of women’s voices from inside the house. His wife, Tara was expecting their first baby after seven years of marriage.

Narayan’s mind floated back to the days when he had first met Tara. He used to ferry people across the Pagladiya river. His father had taught him to row when he was ten and since then, the oars had become his own hands. Tara used to sell garlands on the other side of the river. Every day, early in the morning, he would be waiting for her, his eyes hollering over the landscape; she would soon appear, draped in a simple mekhela chadar, her basket of flowers reflecting her own enchanting beauty. As they rowed across the waves, his witty remarks and songs weaved its way into her heart. As for him, he had melted on seeing her for the first time.

Uthe sab k kadam, ?tara’ ?rum pum pum, Aaji aise geet gaya koro;

Kobhi khushi kobhi gum, ?tara’ ?rum pum pum, Haso aur hasaya karo”.

His emphasis on the word ?tara’ made her break into peals of laughter. His poor Hindi accent and his way of making the boat jig would always be on their list of adorable mid-river chats.

Narayan came back to the present, a smile on his face. The murmurs still continued; ?no sign of the baby ? what were these women up to?’ he pondered.

Inside the naam ghar in the courtyard, Aai was mopping the floor. This was her territory, her own union with Krishna. She would recite naams throughout the day and the whole house would reverberate in a mysteriously refreshing way. Soon, she was done with the mopping and her frail yet pleasant voice filled the house ?

Gopala Gobinda Jodu Nondon,

Krishna’ra saran’e loi’lu xoron

Today, her fingers, wet from the mopping, failed to light the Saki in front of her Krishna; Aai’s heart skipped a beat. However, she was too excited to let the thought linger on for long. Soon, she was lost in reciting the holy hymns from the Bhagwad Geeta, her hands coming together in regular intervals in tune with the song.

Outside, Narayan tapped his feet along with his mother’s clapping hands and sacred voice; his hands arranging his wife’s basket of flowers which he had put up as a cradle for the baby. “The baby would look so beautiful in it”, he chuckled.

Then there was a wail from inside.

He had been expecting a wail of the baby, but not of a woman. As his eyes darted towards the closed main door, the approaching voices grew louder, his ears strained to hear a baby voice or even a murmur. But there were none.

One of the women carried a small adorable infant in her arms. The others whispered amongst themselves. Her eyes, full of tears, she handed over his stillborn son to him. “Dada, we tried our best, but...” her tears choked her voice.

“Is Tara all right?” his gruff voice asked in silent menace. “Yes, the mother is fine.” She sobbed.

He could feel the tempest rise in his insides, he could think of nothing. Bile rose up in his throat but he pushed it back. His strong muscles grew taut with a never-felt-emotion as slow steps guided him through the main door to his wife. Aai looked at her son as he disappeared inside the house, her legs felt weak, her lakhuti seemed insufficient to hold her bent body. She sat down, eyes overflowing with tears; and began her prayers again, tears stammering her voice.

His son nestled in one arm, Narayan looked at his wife. Grief-stricken, she had knelt down beside their bed clinging on to the bed post; it seemed she had emptied her heart out. Now there were no more tears. Slowly she turned towards him.

“I am sorr..”, the look in his eyes stopped her. She had never seen him like this before.

“Come, we will give him to our river”, his unfaltering voice sending shivers down her spine. She could hardly stand. With his other arm, he held her firmly and walked out slowly.

The tenebrous clouds hid the morning sun. The women stopped whispering as they came out. From inside the Naam Ghar, Aai could see her son placing the baby in the cradle. The basket of flowers had become a swargarath. The flowers would nestle her Krishna on his way back. Her hands could clap no more and her voice faltered. As tears glided down her cheeks, she rested her head on the altar; her white sador witnessing her deepest grief and shaken crux.

“We shall go alone”, he said, as some of the women had stood up to go along with them.

Tara had longed for a baby for so long. She remembered her excitement when she found out that she was pregnant and the ubiquitous emotions that had gone through her in the past few months. Like a paper left in mid air, her dreams slowly glided down. She knew she would be bound to a lifetime of remorse. She looked at her son, the soft petals of marigold caressing his smooth skin. She could feel her throat getting choked; the tears had given way to a perpetual pain.

They made their way to the river. He had dreamt of his son listening intently to his stories, as he would row his boat across the mighty waves of the river. He would teach him how to make friends with the water. Now none of the dreams remained. There would be no one to tell him stories as he drifted away in his mother’s basket of flowers.

His firm long steps thundered through the gloomy morning. His feet got caught in the wet sands; it seemed that even the wailing earth did not want to let go. He fought back with the Earth, just like he fought with the thoughts inside his head. He shoved his boat into the water.

The waves heaved in synchronous melancholy as he pulled and pushed the oars over the mighty Pagladiya. He looked at Tara. She was staring intently at the baby; her eyes holding back every single moment to remember; she would have to be content with these memories for the rest of her life. There wasn’t a single drop of tear.

Silhouetted against flashes of lightning and gloomy semi-darkness, in the middle of the river, an unfathomable madness took over Narayan, and in a throaty voice, he sang his favourite song ?

Uthe sab k kadam, ?tara’ ?rum pum pum, Aaji aise geet gaya koro;

Kobhi khushi kobhi gum, ?tara’ ?rum pum pum, Haso aur hasaya karo”.

A tiny drop wriggled past Tara’s eyelashes. The dark clouds, unable to hold on to the gloom any longer, broke down. Tears of his mother, sweat of his father and rain drops slid onto the little baby’s basket of flowers.

There was a blinding flash of lightning.

And miraculously, the howls of the wind and the waves were deafened by a baby’s wails amidst the mighty Pagladiya; and the wall of emotions inside Narayan came crashing down.

In her small naam ghar in the court yard, Aai opened her eyes. A single Saki stood glowing.

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