FIRST RAIN AND THE FIRST BATTLE

Original in Assamese by: Prayag Saikia
Rendered into English by: Bibekananda Choudhury

         
The first rains of this summer have started. The drizzle that commenced in the afternoon has gradually increased in intensity. A damp evening has descended onto the earth.

The business catches up in damp weathers – and ‘Purna’, the country made liquor producer cum vendor understands that better than anyone else. So he looked at the increasing darkness outside with a smile of satisfaction. He got occupied to cater to the needs of the customers gathered keeping up with the engulfing darkness. Though it is contrary to the needs of his customers, he requires enough light to run his business; This is understood very well by Purna and his better-half. Purna’s wife fetched a petromax lamp and handed it over to him. Purna got down to managing the light. His wife got occupied with catering to the needs of the customers.

The atmosphere became gradually charged with some of the customers getting inebriated.

The voice of Purna’s wife once roared above from amongst the smell of liquor and shouts of customers startling everyone; She castigated a customer unable to pay the bill with filthy language.

Ramen’s little heart missed a beat on hearing the voice of his mother(Purna’s wife) and its content. He could not understand why he got so easily shaken; He was very much habituated with the filthy language of his parents.
Ramen thought: “What is the cause!” He could not concentrate properly in his studies. Ramen, a student of Class IX, today faltered every-time he is trying to memorise a certain portion of the poem of Lord Tennyson –Charge of the Light Brigade –

 “ Cannons to the right of them
Cannons to the left of them
Cannons behind them
Volleyed and thundered”

Ramen was swept to a different world by his thought. He was a little boy then. He does not understand anything regarding the restrictions and bindings imposed by the society. He frolics happily under an open sky. His pet partner is ‘Chabi’, daughter of their neighbour ‘Umaram Sir’. ‘Umaram Sir’ is a teacher of the High School. He is a renowned person in the locality. People respect him.

Chabi is adored by Ramen. He has got deep affection for her. The friendship between both of them is very deep. But somehow something ate away into their friendship. Chabi, with maturity, became more and more reserved. She did not talk to him as freely as before. A huge wall emerged between their friendships.

It happened this afternoon. Ramen was coming homewards after finishing the weekly marketing. One hand holding the bag containing the supplies, the other hand clutching an umbrella. There were very few people on the road.

The rain with gradually increasing intensity and the resulting damp weather is perhaps the cause of it. Ramen could not find any familiar face on the way.

Walking leisurely, Ramen, halted suddenly in the middle of the street. It is Chabi, standing on the courtyard of the old dak-bungalow. Chabi took refuge in the safety of the courtyard of the old dak-bungalow to escape getting drenched in the rain that started pouring. Ramen’s conscience did not allow him to leave Chabi alone in the lonely dak-bungalow.

Ramen beckoned her –“Chabi, come, you can go with me.” Chabi responded to Ramen’s call. Chabi took refuge under the umbrella held by Ramen. Both walked along. Ramen felt a special unexplainable pleasure by seeing off Chabi to her doorstep.

Ramen was retracing after leaving Chabi at her home - suddenly the voice of ‘Mastarani Barma’ hit his eardrum. Its content made him shake. He heard the rude voice of Mastarani Barma – “Chabi, why did you come with him? His father is a country liquor vendor, why don’t you try to read person’s character?”

Sitting at the table, Ramen could not concentrate in his studies. The voice of his mother was still ringing in his ears. His mother is catering to the customers in the other room by carrying the glasses filled up with liquors in a tray through his room.

The intensity of the rain outside has increased. Suddenly there was a lightning-like sound nearby somewhere. Ramen’s younger brother on the farthest room started wailing. Distracted suddenly, Ramen’s mother carrying the tray with filled up glasses to serve the customers hastily kept the tray in Ramen’s room on the way and darted to his room to console him.

Ramen pondered for a while. Then he picked up a filled up glass from the tray without fear and poured the entire content into his mouth without inhibition. He felt as if he got a little freshened up and again recited the poem he was trying to memorise – albeit, a little modified –

Cannons to the right of me
Cannons to the left of me
Cannons behind me
Volleyed and thundered

As if he is a fearless soldier caught in the midst of a storm.


About the author and translator: The author, Dr. Prayag Saikia, a physician by profession has till date eleven collection of poetry, three novels, a short-story collection, a collection of lyrics and a novelette in verse. His poems also has been published in Indian literature, Best of Indian literature, Chandrabhaga, Poet International, The Statesman’s festival issues, Chicago poetry on line anthology, Gulistan (Literary journal of Uzbekistan) etc. he was awarded S D Sahewala Memorial Trophy for Best Medical Literary person, Assam, 2011 by Indian Medical Association, Assam State Branch and Kavya Prabhakar Title, 2009 by Assam Kavi Sanmilan.

The translator-author, Bibekananda Choudhury, an electrical engineer by profession, has completed his MS from BITSPilani in Systems and Information. He has also earned a diploma in French language from Gauhati University. He has got published works (both original and translated) in Assamese, Bengali & English in popular periodicals and newspapers. His translated poems has been published in 'Indian Literature', ‘Poets International’, Poetry International’, Rupsi Bangla, etc. 'Suryakatha', the Bengali adaptation done by him of the Assamese novelette in verse in the same title by Prayag Saikia was well accepted. His English translated publications include – one short story collection and four poetry collections and one Information Book on Kaziranga, apart from few others in manuscript form. He hails from Bongaigaon and presently stays at Guwahati.

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