“Papa, which country can I call my own?” It broke the long reigning silence in the room. After much thought, Asit broached the topic again to discuss with his father. They were lying together in a cosy bedroom of their small apartment. They lived in Kolkata suburb, far away from the bustling streets. It was a Sunday afternoon for his father to relax without being late for work in the evening.
His father, Manash, ignored the question at first. They had discussed on similar topics on numerous occasions before. Each and every time, both of them argued with reasons but did not reach any agreeable conclusion. Most of the times, their discussions ended up with Manash ignoring Asit’s counter arguments and continuing with his work. However, it did not stop Asit on his relentless quests for answers of his questions.
Asit repeated his question again after clearing his throat and this time with firmness. Manash anticipated what was about to happen. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes and uttered lazily “India is your country now. Your family is here with you. Your friends are in here. This is your country.”He was lying on his back, looking straight at the ceiling fan.
“What was wrong with Bangladesh?” Asit continued “I had my family there. I had my friends there. That was my country. Wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was a country where you were born. By birth right, it was your country. Now, as we have moved in here and left that country entirely, you have to consider this country as your own.” Manash tried to convince his son.
Asit could never convince his mind on the duality of his existence, spread across two countries separated by mere barbed wires. Belonging to a place felt misleading and confusing to him.
In the beginning, only his dialect sounded a bit different. It was a way to identify his true belonging, a place so near, yet so far. Adopting a new dialect was not difficult but to disown the former was heart wrenching. Even his nickname, Chottu, sounded much familiar, much appealing in the dialect, just like he remembered his grandmother calling him.
Many a times, an introduction with his class mates followed an obvious yet irrelevant question of his birth place owing to this tone. He avoided such questions by answering on falsified accounts of his birth. Every time he answered such questions, he felt not only denouncing his mother land but felt like disowning his own family wrapped in golden pages of memories. His life so far, was uprooted for the sake of owning a new identity which began with the shaky voice in response to the customs officer’s strict questions, rather than the first cry of a baby in hospital. Even the customs officer in India was no different from officers in Bangladesh. Only their uniforms created the illusion of servitude for different countries.
His memories swayed but he refrained from comparing two lives. For him, it was too early to live in the memories of old days and find solace in the present.
The real struggle was to make others believe in the make belief stories of his birth, his very own identity. It was more difficult to remember who actually knew the truth and who did not. His voice did not shake while lying about his past. He felt that it was just like another verse of the English poem that he memorized and could orate whenever needed.
“I do not like in here. I want to go back to my country. This is not my country. It is a lie”. Asit’s voice shook a bit accommodating the lump of cough formed in his throat.
Manash did not reply for a while. He turned to his left showing his back to Asit. After a while, he replied “Yes it is a lie. However, this is your country now. You have to live here”.
Every time they discussed on this, Manash felt sudden urge to talk his heart out to a friend but restrained himself as he needed to be strong unlike his teenage son. For he, who was the main sailor of the ship they called family, did not have the luxury to feel heartbroken after denying his past life and starting afresh.
It was not so easy for him either. He also left most of his friends behind, except those who decided to move to India. Those, who did move, could not all be close to each other, rather fell apart due to their personal preferences of living places. Some chose to stay in Kolkata, while others opted for economically thriving cities like Mumbai and Delhi. Moreover, those who remained in Kolkata went so busy adjusting with new living place and chasing economical stability that they could not remember when they gathered last time over a cup of tea like they used to at least three to four times a week.
Manash came to India with his middle class savings and some gold that her wife inherited from her mother. All he looking for was a better future for his son in exchange of the long time hardship he was about to enter. Such a commitment meant he could never look back at what he left behind. It was not only Asit, but, Manash as well, who had to leave his very own identity and accept a new one. They could only keep names of all their family members other than their old memories.
“Don’t you think it is too much to handle for me? How can I ignore my past entirely and move forward?” asked Asit.
Manash Could not take it anymore but restrained himself from any more emotional turbulences that could drag him out of his self imposed confinement of illusory comfort and security. He replied softly, “We live with our past, keeping our future flame alive, beaming with hope of happiness. I have managed to live like that. It will be better for you if you try to do the same”.
Asit suddenly remembered the place where he stood with his baggage in hand before immigration check in Indian border. It was a long queue of people entering to India after crossing Bangladesh border. Interestingly, he was standing amidst his two courses of life. His father whispered in his ear saying, “This place in between the border boundaries, where we are standing now, is called ‘No Man’s Land’.”