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The Day AILA Came

Updated: Nov 24, 2022

The truth could be a bitter pill, especially when it is one that is least expected and discovering the truth of being adopted ends up tearing one’s soul given that it is an unanticipated thought. Such pain sooner or later pushes individuals to search for their origins and more often than not, this journey raises more doubts than it resolves. No matter how ideal the choices of the past are, they never seem acceptable and the intentions, no matter how good - are never justifiable.


“The Day AILA Came” by Manognya Bethapudi is the journey of a youngster witnessing the bittersweet nature of life while learning the importance of valuing one’s own existence and identity no matter how terrible events turn out to be.

 
Cover Photo by Ravindra Patoju

Prologue


Fifty-year-old Mr. Basu stretched in his easy chair. The whiff of the coffee beans called out to him as he picked up his newspaper, ‘The Tribune’. Though the aroma of the coffee was ambrosial, it never reached his lips as the coffee mug came crashing down. Mr. Monotosh Basu read the deadly headline, “Cyclone AILA Swallows Coastal West Bengal”


That very moment, he understood what it felt like when the heart stops beating and when the brain stops thinking.

 

Part I

11.55 pm


The green waters of the creeks move slowly aided by a gentle breeze and guided by the pale moonlight. The swampy, marshy land looks darker and greener than ever. Life is almost at a standstill. Time stops in this liquid Eden, in Bhatir-desh, Tide-country, Sundarbans. Even in the seemingly tranquil surroundings, danger lurks in the form of green shining eyes of tigers peeping through the branches of the mangroves and crocodiles gliding away in the placid waters.


These omnipresent dangers are nowhere near the dangers the Tide-country is soon to face.


The predators who prey on the bountiful fauna of this fragile ecosystem will soon be preyed upon because, in the face of Nature’s fury, predator and prey are both alike.


If only things remained as peaceful as they are now, if only...


But again destiny had different plans for the Tide-country and its inhabitants - tiger, man, deer and fish. Their life would never be the same again come 3 am. It would never be the same ever again...


Not knowing the ordeal that awaited him, not knowing that in the next few days, he would be on the verge of the precipice called LIFE. The only thought that revolved in Siddharth’s mind was that he wasn’t Siddharth Basu anymore. He wasn’t Monotosh Basu’s son. He felt numb, hollow and empty when he learnt that he wasn’t his father’s biological son and not part of his father’s bloodline. He was shocked to learn that he was adopted.


It all began on a fine Wednesday morning, 20th May, in Chandigarh where he was at his father’s house on vacation. At around 11 o’clock, when the crossword was being solved, the post arrived and slid into the letterbox with an ominous click. Montosh Basu took the wad of letters out and classified them but when he saw a letter from Lusibari - a place in Bengal, he was shocked. He immediately went to his study place and read the letter. Later, reappearing with bloodshot eyes, he spilt the whole truth out to his son by showing him the letter as he revealed that his beloved Siddharth whom he had loved as his own, was in fact adopted and that his real mother wanted to see him once, just once before she left the mortal world.


Siddharth was wounded and heartbroken. He left his father’s house and resolved never to see him again. Pleading him for the last favour, his father asked him to take the letter with him. He took it and decided to throw it away as soon as possible. He wandered for a while, staying at a friend’s place. But he couldn’t bring himself to throw away that letter. He read and reread it. The letter made him feel very guilty. He was confused, angry, frustrated and lost.


After much contemplation, he went to see his real mother because the void left by his adopted mother who passed away the last year before had not been filled and would never be filled, either. But still in the hope that his real mother, whose last words had moved him to tears, wanted to see him, he went…

 

Part II


He went to Lusibari – a small island among 102, in the Sundarbans to meet her once, just once… Exactly what he would say to her and how she would react was something he wasn’t very sure about but one thing was certain that he wanted to see his birth mother and fulfil her last wish.


Siddharth then took the train that went to Canning - the nearest railhead to Lusibari. Siddharth, a would-be professional photographer, was immediately taken in by the dark, damp and dank islands of silt and by the naturalness of the whole environment. At the same time, he was shocked by the squalor of the town, the signs of big-city pollution seeping into this small town. He was taken aback by the size of the nearby river, which looked more like a nullah.


On the ferry to Lusibari, he was the only one who wasn’t engaged in animated chatter about all and sundry. He felt out of place in his Lee Cooper pants (the only pair among all the 21) on the ferry and his Italian leather shoes while the people whose town he was visiting were engaged in a basic fight for survival, for two square meals a day, a shelter and some rags.


In Lusibari, he felt as if he had stepped back into the past where life’s pace was dictated by seasons and climate, where even a drop of water would have echoed everywhere, where life, times and people were almost prehistoric.


He met his ailing mother for the first time in a two-storeyed, pucca-building in the village, the Hospital which also served as a Cyclone Protection Camp.


His mother, Gauri, was 57 years old with just so many breaths left in her. Seeing her son, her blood, the only proof of her existence on Earth. She said that it was one of the happiest days of her life. She held him in her arms and said, “Bhogowan tumako ashirbad koruk (God bless you).”


Siddharth was happy to see her but he was filled with questions, desperately waiting for answers. He wanted his mother to tell him his story, the story of his life. He was almost on the verge of tears when he didn’t get any as the nurses persuaded him that his mother needed rest and she was given sedatives to help her sleep.

 

Part III


Mamta, a young nurse, came and led him to the guest house where he was to stay for the next few days. The guest house was surprisingly modern for a place where the only vehicles were cycles. It even had a tap in the bathroom, a study place, a four-poster in the bedroom and lots of nets everywhere to protect the guests from mosquitos. The house was on stilts to protect it from the Tidewater.


From the window, the Mangroves of Sundarbans - deep, dark and extremely terrifying - could be seen. In these forests lurked those endangered but feared Royal Bengal Tigers. He shuddered at the thought and had nightmares of being killed by a tiger that night. Early next morning, just as the intelligent looking nurse had forewarned, there was a snake in his room. He slowly left the room as cautiously as possible.


Conversing with the locals, he learned that his real father was the village headmaster for a decade and that the guest house where he stayed was in fact his parents’ home once. His mother was a social worker who worked very hard to set up a Health Centre in the land of swamps, scorpions and storms located in the midst of a Mangrove island.

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