Baabush loved to fly kites. He could run along the railway tracks all day, waiting for the gush of air to pick pace as the trains screeched past him. When the winds made their way through the cramped lines, his kite soared, lifting his spirits along. He jumped with joy when his kite went high, as high as the planes that flew in the sky.
“Didi, main badaa hoke hawaai jahaaz udaana chahta hun”. I loved my little baabush, more than I loved my own little self. We’d walk to school together. We’d talk and we’d laugh. We went to school just because we got food there. We went so that we could go away from our home.
People love their homes, I wondered why. I never liked the drops of rain when they trickled through the roof to wet the muddy floor. When it rained, baabush used to hug me tight to get that little bit of warmth. I had to stifle his cry, lest it upset baaba. In the other corner of the room, hidden by a pardaah, all we could hear through the night were the wilting wails mixed with soul crushing sobs. I wished baaba didn’t beat maa. I wished it was baaba, in the dark one couldn’t tell.
It was an unusual evening. Maa hadn’t gone out to work that day, where she used to clean stuff for people. She pulled me closer, lined my eyes with kaajal and asked me to wear the new dress. I loved it; she’d bought it for me from the fair the other day. Maa never did this to me. “Why are you making me look pretty, maa?,” staring into the broken mirror, I asked. In that fleeting moment I’d seen happiness, kinds that baabush saw when his kite soared.
By the time I woke up the next day, baabush had gone off to school. I stared out of the window. My reddened eyes and soaring body had broken me down into pieces. I was all of twelve and had slept on the other side of the pardaah the night before. It wasn’t abba on that side as I found out.
“Badi ho gayi hai woh abb. Log kya kahenge yeh sochke saanse nahin chalti. Naahi marti hai bhookh,” I heard maa speaking to someone. I never went to school after that day.
Baabush missed me at school, he said. He used to tell me about what he’d learnt every day. He used to read me his stories and told me what his teachers taught. “Agar tumm jee jaanse padhoge toh tumm bhi hawaai jahaaz udaa paaoge.” Baabush wasn’t the only one who was learning.
Before I had turned eighteen, I had learnt the art of negotiating for a little more with people I couldn’t care to know a dime about. I had learnt the art of looking away, clenching my fists, of living in a closet while dying a million deaths. I had learnt to save for his school fees. I had learnt to see the world through his innocent eyes.
With time I had learnt to wake up without pain and waving with a smile as he trotted out to school. I had learnt the art of waiting for my baabush to come home and hug me tight, to empty my eyes on his broadening shoulders. By now he was old enough to understand why I went on the other side of the pardaah after the sun had set. In his little embrace, I’d find love. In the arms of my little brother, I found the kind of love I was compelled to sacrifice at the altar of lust, hunger, and a dream.
“Didi, didi, didi…..,” he rushed in through the door one day, with a paper and a box of jalebis, his favourite sweets, in his hands. It was the same door through which countless faces had walked in before him, albeit never with an intention to stay. He opened the paper. “I have got an admission to the school of aviation, di. Abb main hawaai jahaaz udaa paaoonga. Hum saath saath udenge, didi.”
My eyes, trained to look beyond the hollow of human eyes, welled up with tears of pride. The sky outside was clear. The chatter in the streets and clatter of the railway lines didn’t seem to matter anymore. I could finally come out and breathe.
My baabush, my little brother, he will fly one day. His dream is to fly. My dream is to fly.
*All rights to the story reserved with the author. Image copyrights: Pallab Seth