PUNISHMENT


Short story by:Md Raihan Research scholar, Jamia Millia Islamia
Yesterday I received a call from an unknown number. No, it is not appropriate to say unknown. It is better to say I received a call from the number which was not saved by any name. Generally I greet callers according to their religious believes if they are already known to me. If this is not the case then I greet according to my own custom. It is rare but it happens, I remain silent and let the people on the other side of the phone to greet first. This time too I remained silent for a moment after receiving the call. I just said Hello and became mute. Hello is an inevitable word. It comes naturally. To my surprise He neither greeted me nor said Hello.
 As he felt his call has been picked up he asked me ‘’Am I talking to Mr. Rahman?’’
 I confirmed it trying to recognize him without asking his name.
 He greeted me humbly in a fragile voice with full of emotion. I sensed he was happy to find me. He chuckled for a moment and took a deep breath. In fact he was overjoyed. Here this side I was confused. On the other side was an elated mind and this side was a tangled mind.
 I asked myself ‘’who the man is?’’ ‘’Should I ask his name?’’
 I could neither recognize him nor dared to ask his name. It is impolite to ask the name abruptly. I thought this act can vanish his blissfulness. ‘’I don’t know you?’’ how bad it sounds. ‘’can you tell me your name please?’’ is a formal expression. But believe me. It would hurt the man who was elated to find me on the phone. Sometimes formal words and expressions are morally unaccepted. This moral approach prevented me to ask his name.
 Meanwhile many faces flashed on the screen of my memories. Conscious and subconscious parts of my brain were active but they could do nothing to help me out. I cursed my memory. It did not provide any image resembling to the voice which I was hearing on the phone. When I could do nothing I pretended as if I know him. He was exhibiting love, affection and kindness through words. I too was showing reverence, respect and warmness.
 While conversation was going on I applied all my senses to trace any clue to recognize him. Finally one thing helped me. His debilitated voice, half spoken words and broken sentences made me able to guess his age. Meek voice and enervated accent prepared an image of 70 year old man. It took less than one second to recognize him as I figured out his age. An image emerged in front of my eyes.
I called on his name ‘’Sankar Sir.’’?
 He chortled once again and said ‘’Rahman I was pretty sure that you would not have forgotten me.’’
 He was so much delighted. His feelings are inexpressible. Feelings are always difficult to express. For a moment I went back into the past unintentionally. I remembered the day when I met him. It is not worthless to share those pleasant memories.
 It was a scorching day of June. I was crossing the M.A Jauhar road which passes through Jamia Millia Islamia dividing it into two parts equally. This is very busy road. Residents of this locality drive bikes roughly and rashly. They honk unnecessarily. There are high chances of accidents if you don’t cross carefully. Though accidents do not take place frequently but the bikers always create chaotic situations. There is a bus stop near the main gate of Jamia. People, mostly students board and deboard there. Students wait for their bus standing sometime near the main gate and sometime at the bus stop. I had crossed the road safely and was about to enter the main gate. A voice came from behind. I looked back and saw a man of around 65 year old was standing with a lady of the same age in a corner of the gate. He was smartly dressed. There was not any spot or scratch on his neat and ironed shirt. He looked like a gentleman. The lady was wearing Sari. She had put a red Bindi on her forehead. She was in pure Hindustani costume. I approached there quickly. Shook hand and asked the man if he needs any help from me.
 Holding my hand in his hand he asked ‘’are you student of Jamia?’’
I replied ‘’yes’’ in a tone of confidence with a little bit pride in it. 
On hearing my response he released my hand. I noticed a relaxed smile had brightened his face. He introduced me as a retired principal of a government senior secondary school. He had come from Kolkata. It was his desire to visit universities of India which have pluralistic character since their foundation.
 He asked me ‘’can you guide me here?’’
‘’Why not. It will be my pleasure to guide you.’’ I said happily.
We visited library and different faculties. He was walking showering wisdom on me. I became inspired by his scholarship. I would name any literary person and he would speak at least twenty minutes illustrating the contribution and work of the named person.  I spent four hours with him without getting bored. During all the four hours his wife remained uncommunicative. I too was a mute listener. I enriched my wisdom and literary knowledge.
We were so engaged that we could not feel how these four hours passed. The Sun has already gone down in the horizon. It was getting dark. He asked me to hire an auto. I hired an auto and gave instructions to the driver to drop safely to his destination. We shared our numbers and said good bye promising to keep in touch. But I never made a call to him. That was the reason when he called me yesterday I felt guilty.
 His words ‘’ Rahman you never called me in those four years’’ made me ashamed. 
I had not any convincing excuse. Sorry is a meaningless word for me. It has no feeling in it. People use it randomly without feeling guilty of their mistake. I hate this senseless word. I did not say sorry.
 I said ‘’uncle I feel I have committed a crime. You can punish me the way you want.’’
He giggled for a while and said to me ‘’Rahman your aunt is here. I put your case in her court and accept the judgement she gives.’’
Suddenly I heard a sweet lady voice over the phone. ‘’ Rahman, this is your aunt and your punishment is that you have to come to my house in Kolkata as soon as possible.’’

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