It was an early Sunday morning…..
I had come to visit my uncle (my Mom’s cousin). As I am always in Delhi, I get only a few days to visit my parents and relatives in Assam. Every time I visit home , I am always greeted with a lot of news and the recent was that my uncle had got married. So the intention of this visit was to see my new Aunt.
It was 9 o clock in the Morning. After about an hour’s drive by motorbike from my village, I reached my Uncle’s house. The roads had of course, become very muddy due to the rains. I rang the bell, and a sweet lady opened the door for me. She greeted me with a smile. She had an average built and looked like she was in her late 20s. It took me no time to guess that she was my Aunt. My Uncle was in the lawn cutting some bamboos. He informed me that it was for putting a fence around his fields as the cattle had been eating up the harvest. He asked me to wait for sometime. I got myself fresh and sat in the chair in the balcony of the ‘Chang ghar’ (a house built on stilted bamboo poles and raised from the ground). After sometime, my uncle joined me in the balcony and we started discussing about various things beginning from agriculture to my stay in Delhi, job etc.
Soon after, my aunt came to offer us some tea. She brought a Gamusa (A piece of hand woven cloth equivalent to English towel. Gamusa has a great cultural significance in Assamese society) and wrapped it around my neck and said ‘Thank you’. I was of course startled, and my uncle was looking at me teary eyed. A strange kind of confusion/fear filled my mind. Offering Gamusa is a tradition in our community where almost every guest or a relative is offered one by the other relatives when he/she visits a house. But what was the ‘thank you’ for? And why was my uncle crying? All these thoughts were rushing through my mind like a whirlwind. My mother had told me that he had wanted to see me and insisted that I visit him whenever I am a back home.
My aunt silently came towards me and told me that she knows me. I was confused. Her face neither seemed familiar nor could I recollect seeing/meeting her. So how could she know me? Various thoughts were clamoring in my mind when my aunt broke the confusion and said “you might not remember, but you were the one who gave me blood along with your friends in Delhi, when I was admitted at AIIMS”.
We (a group of friends and I) used to always donate blood to patients who came from Assam for medical treatment. Most of the times, we did not even know who the patient was. So, I thought she must be one of them. She then reiterated an incident which made things clearer in my mind, taking me back to an incident in the year 2004.
I was then, a first year student of B.A. Political Science (Honours), studying at Kirori Mal college. It was my first Independence Day celebration in Delhi, where my friends and I had decided to go to Red fort to listen to the address of the Prime Minister. But for some reason ( I can’t recollect now) we did not go and opted to watch the parade and the celebrations on television instead. In between the program, we were also browsing through different channels to watch the news and to know about celebrations happening across the country. Suddenly we stopped at a certain channel which informed us about a blast that had happened in Dhemaji District in Assam. The blasts had occurred in the college field while the independence day celebrations were on and had killed around 3 women and 10 children. The children belonged to various schools attending the independence day parade. The channel reported that the ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) had carried out the blasts. Belonging to Dhemaji district, the news shook me completely and I felt like the ground beneath me had sunk. I reached for the phone and gave a call back home to ask if everything was fine. Thankfully none of my family members were hurt. My mother briefed me about the incident and told me not to worry.
The after effects of the blast saw the creation of mass hysteria and massive public opinion against the ULFA. While the news channels were trying to understand the motive behind the blasts, we in Delhi, had formed a small collective and had started collecting money to help the victims of the Blasts. We also began to assist everyone who had come to Delhi for treatment. Most of our time thus was spent at AIIMS and various other hospitals in Delhi, trying to help in every way possible. We opened up our rooms for the relatives who had accompanied the victims and also tried our best to even help them financially in bearing the costs of the treatment.
On one of such days, my uncle knocked on my door. I was getting ready to attend to a certain girl patient at AIIMS whom we had heard of being the worst blast affected victim. I was surprised to see my uncle at my door and could not apprehend the reason behind his sudden appearance. He informed me that he had brought some amount of money for the victims. I found it quite normal as we use to receive contributions from various parts of Assam which were sent towards assisting the victims. He also informed me that the girl patient was his friend and he knew her. As we were leaving to visit her, we asked him to join along. We went to the definite ward where the girl was admitted. As soon as I saw her, I was dazed. Her face had been completely destroyed and I could not differentiate between her nose and her eyes. She could barely speak. I turned my face to another direction and focused myself on consoling her parents rather as I could not bear to see her in this plight. Her parents informed her about the arrival of my uncle and she slowly turned and started crying.
Her parents informed us about the need of blood, so all of us (my friends and I) got ready to donate blood. After about sometime, a nurse came and asked us to follow her if we wanted to donate blood. After all of us had donated blood we took leave from her parents and assured them of any further help required. My uncle informed me that he will stay with the patient. Thus, I left him at the hospital and came back to my flat with my friends. On our way back, all of us were strangely quiet and none of us said anything besides the occasional abuses addressed towards the ULFA. I spent the whole day in a gloomy mood, thinking about the future of the girl. They informed me that she shall need plastic surgery to get a face back.
Back then, Of course I had not assumed, not in my wildest dreams, that my uncle was dating the patient (now my aunt). My uncle has stood behind her in all times and today they are together. My Aunt is totally well now and has a beautiful face, though she has to take extra precaution. But she tells me that it is not a problem for her as “your uncle is always with me and that gives me strength”.
She also informed me that after that day, she always refrained from Independence day celebrations since then.
I was overwhelmed with emotions listening to this story. My heart was filled with unbound respect for my Uncle and was also happy that I could be of some help to my Aunt. I did not understand which emotion won over me. Both of them asked me to stay back and spend the night with them, but I could not as I had a bus to catch the next day for Guwahati. After spending about the whole day with them, I bade them goodbye.
My aunt came with me till the gate and gently said to me. “I shall be always thankful to you for what you did for me”. Her face suddenly lighted up with that beautiful smile.
Her smile still lingers through my heart…….