Julian Braganza or ‘little Braganza’ as he was lovingly called was a regular teenage college going student. Full of action and zest, sprinkled with revolutionary voices sprouting whenever suited. The only way ‘little Braganza’ was different was that he appeared a little softer around his edges, unlike other growing male adults of his age who wore focused in ‘shaping’ themselves for the world around.
That however, never deterred Julian from having friends; neither made him a loner. He sat around with the rest; he was part of the crowd but never at the center of it. Just like how the nation treats other ‘Braganza’s'. Neither do they figure in conversations of inclusion or discrimination, nor sympathy or hatred. ‘Little Braganza’ was just there – just there somewhere. Like a minority, among minorities.
This did not affect Julian a bit and especially it did not bother him today. For today, his love was on the way to meet him before they again departed for some time. Love was enough a companion than rest who surrounded him. ‘Little Braganza’ dressed handsomely, left his long hair slightly unkept, carried his guitar and moved both gently and anxiously towards the meeting point.
From a distance he saw his love. A well-groomed, tall, dark and a handsome figured man with an army haircut, seated boldly at the corner seat of the park. As Julian approached smilingly towards him, the handsome figure stood up and waited for his arrival. They tried to act as ‘friends’ but the instincts of love took over. Little did ‘little Braganza’ know that expressing love openly was more dangerous than ‘open declaration of hatred’. Their act of love created a furor in the surrounding. The lovers decided to depart early.
“ shut the door of the house on their child’s face. The duty officer stretched the white cloth and covered back Julian’s face.”
No one quite knows the account of what happened in between but ‘little Braganza’ finally reached laying still in an ambulance. Some say, on the way back he encountered a ‘parivaar’ - a group of men in uniform who self-appointed themselves as guardians of the culture.
Seeing little Braganza, Mr. and Mrs. Braganza stood shocked. So shocked that ‘little Braganza’ looked even little to their eyes draped in a white cloth. No one spoke a word. They were replaced by tears. As Mr. Braganza, approached towards his son, the duty constable narrated the highlights of the event – the mob and his love. In that order.
Mr. and Mrs. Braganza, this time stood even more shocked. Mr.Braganza immediately pulled back his hand that he held to hold his son and said, “GOD made Eve for Adam, not another Adam. If he cannot be GOD’s child, how can he be ours!’." He held his wife, turned their back and shut the door of the house on their child’s face. The duty officer stretched the white cloth and covered back Julian’s face.
In some households, children die twice!
The account of the lovers would have gone unnoticed and unaccounted had it not been for a young journalist by the name of Roonhi Raychaudhuri. Yes, the name, is slightly ‘researched’, one may say, but some like showing off their intellectual side on every possible account.
Roonhi was hailed by her counterparts and the ‘pride’ for daringly carrying out the article that was soon labelled - like every else nowadays - as the ‘voice of the nation’. But such labels did not bother her. She remained the carefree, the loud voiced, tattooed, red streaked, sleeveless wearing, determinant youngster that her mother Ms. Raychaudhuri had nurtured. However, her ‘well-wishers’ kept passing warnings that from now ‘she’ should be careful; for as a ‘girl’ it is dangerous to tread in these steps.
But Roonhi, had the support of her mother. She always did. But one day it exhausted. Roonhi, did not reach back home. She was often late for work, but her mother knew this was not the same. As she anxiously reached out to her friends, the word spread in the neighborhood, who immediately did a postmortem. The headlines of which read as the following:
‘After all she is a girl. She should know to behave like one.”
‘Her dresses. The world outside is dangerous. Durga ma protect her.’
‘A single mother. A divorcee. How will she know how to take care of a child?’
Catchy headlines do not take time to spread. It reached Ms. Raychaudhuri soon but in the meantime, what arrived was also the deceased body of young Roonhi. The case, nothing as the postmortem suggested. Roonhi, died of a stampede in the local train station that killed even a few ‘normal’ and ‘decent’ girls of the town.
“ Only that day, she was abandoned to expire and today just surrounded after demise. ”
Roonhi’s mother turned towards her male friend and said, “It had to all again end in the public isn’t it? It just had to, like where it started that night!”
That night was few years ago, when Ms. Raychaudhuri and her friend, then in their teens, stormed the streets of the capital of the country against a fight for corruption. While the country raised slogans for transparency in governance, the financial inadequacy of the present government, danced to the new promises and playacted the future, a little girl laid by the side of the street, next to a garbage dump. Her voice muted in the outcry of the nation. It is always ‘her’ voice that is always ‘muted.’
The little girl on the pavement looked pale. Her lips dry, her skin pale and in front of young Ms. Raychaudhuri’s eyes, she almost started to freeze to numbness. Today, Roonhi’s face lying in the center of the room, appeared the same. Only that day, she was abandoned to expire and today just surrounded after demise. Ms. Raychaudhuri stood still, as the neighbours prepared a fresh postmortem report.
In some societies, members die twice!
‘Untold Death of Love’ by Roonhi Raychaudhuri, was a newspaper cutout that S.Vemula held in his hand, as he stared out side of the moving train. With one thought crossing his mind “Why did I go to visit him? May be the love could have lived longer!”
With this continuous thought, the jawaan headed to his new posting in the Valley. Someone being called upon to serve the nation, that too in the Valley – a moment of great pride for any soldier. That is the thought that crosses the mind. The layman’s mind.
But S Vemula was appointed to be a sahayak or more fondly called as a ‘buddy’ to his senior officer. This meant one simple thing – only when called upon he had to battle the enemy, but on a day to day basis, his duty would the following:
Wake up the officer on time for the morning jog. Iron his clothes, put his uniform in order; polish his shoes, accompany him in fitness and even hold the door every time he left a room or entered a car. He was more than just that. He also used to clear the left overs of the dog, buy vegetables, hold the market bag while the lady shopped, change the curtains, clean the floor, do the garden and if it snowed heavily, even clean and repair the roof.
The only gain of doing routine chores was that he became familiar with the locals. During one such dutiful days, Vemula saw an old woman (whom he greeted regularly) gasping for breath and as a responsible soldier helped the old woman to her house, called her grandson and eventually reached the house where he served – a little late.
“ By morning, a ‘Vemula’ was found where he was supposed to belong – lying underneath the soles of ‘higher authorities.”
The officer was relentless. Punctuality of any kind is held in high esteem in the force. As the officer grilled the jawaan, he only responded, “I wanted to serve the nation. Not be a servant.” The officer in return exclaimed, “Insubordination”
What unfolded in the valley after this exchange, like every other happening, remained in the Valley! Only after a few months the army carried the belongings of S.Vemula and delivered it to his village with a little note of gratitude. And as an act of respect (or cover up?) framed a small picture of his on the market square, on the post that hoisted the Indian flag.
The family looked up on S.Vemula’s picture with both sorrow and pride. But a ‘Vemula’ (a chamaar) being positioned higher than the rest was not acceptable to all. And how could it be. It just disturbed the balance of society. So, by midnight, a few gathered around the post, pulled down the frame, smashed it on the ground and trampled upon it until it tore into pieces. By morning, a ‘Vemula’ was found where he was supposed to belong – lying underneath the soles of ‘higher authorities.’
In some communities, subjects die twice!
As the young man stood beside Ms. Raychaudhuri, taking a last glimpse of her friend, his phone rang. On the other side, a man’s voice could be heard, “Your Grandmother is not well. Please come fast.” The young man wasted no time and left. He very well knew that his grandmother could not be taken to the hospital. Identity was critical.
Upon reaching, he realized that few of the confidante locals had somehow sneaked in a local doctor and his verdict was, “It was a matter of time”. The young man held her hand and waited. He knew that she knew that both knew. While he held her hand and waited, the only thing question that crossed his mind, “Where?” The young man staying in the heartland of the country was aware of a simple fact. There was land to buy in the Valley to build but not enough to bury. Death and not so much dying, was the new normal here. There were more people in the ground beneath than that lived above in this ‘jannat’.
As his grandmother very satisfactorily breathed her last breath in the morning hours, the young man held onto her till it was night. Carefully he dialed a few numbers of his friends. To those, for whom his grandmother was lovingly ‘Begum ammi.’ No one knew her name but in their growing years, ‘Begum ammi’ was their accomplice in crime. Not the crime that the valley is known for – but the kind of crime that youngsters do – just like in the hinterland of the country.
" A burning valley did not have time to pay attention on the death of a dead old woman.”
It was their time to pay her back. So, under the dark starry night, they carried her back on their shoulder – silently. The young man and his friends dug up the ground under which lay his grandmothers sister's coffin and then rested her body on top of it. A ‘double decker’. A term that was made common by the officers who guarded the valley and now practiced even by the locals. It was not the kind of ritual that is usually bestowed upon people in the same fraternity but the young man consoling himself said, “At least her last wish was fulfilled. She always wanted to be buried in her own soil.”
Trudging back home, he sat by the bed of her grandmother and opened the trunk. One she would never let anyone touch. Within that, a piece of paper folded carefully with a photograph of his grandmother stated:
Name: Mehmooda Begum
Place of Birth: Allahabad, India;
Permanent Address: Lahore, Pakistan
Date of Birth: 15 August 1917;
Date of Death: 5 August 1992.
The young man carefully read the remainder of the paper and then neatly folded it back again and lit it up on fire. A burning valley did not have time to pay attention on the death of a dead old woman.
In some nations, citizens die twice!
1. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy
2. Inequality and the Indian Security Forces, The Caravan, March 2020
3. Mammo (movie), 1994
Illustrations: Inspired and adapted from the works of Tyeb Mehta