Humanity over legality ~ Subrata Chowdhury
When I was two, I had a share of the ghastly experience which the subcontinent went through during the infamous communal riots in the wake of the Partition. Our house in north Calcutta was situated in a locality populated by the Hindus. From its terrace, hoisted in my mother&’s arm, I had seen torrid flames grilling the sky on the other side of river Ganges. Salkia, a place populated by the Muslims, was up in flames.
The conflagration was in retaliation of what had happened at Kidderpore the earlier day. The following day, my mother had shut me up in a room. A clamour was on. The landlords of houses behind ours used to own three landaus driven by three coachmen and three attendants. All six of them were Muslims. Local Hindus led by a milkmaid, who had been provided with a free cowshed on a plot adjacent to our house by my grandparents, had decapitated the six cowered and cornered men. She then hollered pointing at our house that one more was in there.
In fact, Khuda Bux or Khudu mistry, whom we’d employ as a mason every now and then for over a decade, was inside our house then. Surreptitiously, my grandfather had asked Khudu to hide in the attic. Since ours was one of the respected families in the neighbourhood, we had a say in the locality. My grandfather, Kshitishchandra and his brother, Nareshchandra dispersed the frenzied mob dispersed.
Khudu was brought down from the attic. He sat cadaverously. At long last, he could utter, “Ma, amake ektu pani din (mother, please give me some water)”. When he had finished drinking the water, he clutched my granny&’s feet and kept on weeping.
Years later, when peace and harmony was restored, Khudu was still employed as a mason by our family every now and then. He also used to bring tidings from a very expansive stretch of land my grandfather used to own in Ekbalpore. The land was encroached upon and was occupied by Muslim refugees after the partition.
Around 1953, my grandfather had won a decree from the court to establish his possession on the land, but within a moratorium of seven days. Khudu&’s own house was in Ekbalpore and as such, he had a rapport with local Muslim goons. He opted to raze the slums which had come up on the land to the ground with the help of the goons, who agreed to take up the assignment in exchange of a lump sum.
One night, Khudu arrived with a truckload of goons, seeking my grandpa&’s green signal.
My grandfather asked for a little time to ponder over the matter. After some time, he paid the agreed upon sum to the goons and told Khudu that he was going to drop the ‘massacre’. He had asked Khudu, “Where will the homeless go, and would not the goons bash the women folks and kids too? I don’t mind losing out in the legal battle and my land.”