Imanul Haque is a friend with whom I’ve shared good times and bad and we see each other at least once a week. Though he stays at the other end of the city, it is I who go across most of the time; preferably on weekends. He&’s a professor of Bengali in a city college, a man of letters, and since we’re both social activists our discussions are often heated. But of late he seemed to have lost his buoyancy and refused to retaliate when I would try to raise a storm over the cups of tea his hospitable wife Ayesha would place before us along with her home-made delicacies the moment I would land at his place.
The reason for his discomfiture, I soon discovered, was his only daughter Amina&’s indisposition, which was gradually acquiring chronic proportions. The four-year-old was confined to bed when I had visited Imanul last week. This week, too, Ayesha told me she was running a mild temperature accompanied by a cough and cold. The chocolates and sweetmeats I had carried for her had to wait their time.
“Have you consulted a doctor or a child specialist?” I asked.
Imanul nodded complacently. “The doctor said her blood has to be tested, that she would even need a Monteaux Test and chest X-Ray.”
“Then do it, why delay?” I said. Our session didn’t last long and I left a bit perturbed.
The next Thursday I called him on his cell phone, “Hello, Imanul, had the tests done? What are the results?”
After a moment, he replied, “Listen, Sunil, there is nothing wrong, simply nothing, but… the temperature is still there and the cough too.”
He sounded worried and I advised him not to get upset, to wait a couple of days for the medicines to work. On Saturday morning I visited him and asked, “How is Amina today?”
He shook his head and mumbled, “Same, no change.”
“Can I see her?” I urged Ayesha as she arrived with a bearing tea and snacks. “Bhabi, you should not have bothered about tea and all these today.”
Following her to Amina&’s room, I found the child lying on her back, her lovely face, appearing from under the sheet covering her, looking wan.
“Ami, see who has come,” Ayesha told her. Amina slowly opened her eyes; they had lost the lustre that had always made her so special. She stared at the ceiling for a while and closed her eyes again. She seemed in a trance. I turned and slowly walked back to the living room. I left soon after patting Imanul on the back. I had forgotten the tea. It happens when you’re out of your sorts and when you have a daughter Amina&’s age jubilantly prancing around your backyard with friends.
For the next four days Amina&’s condition was unchanged, but on Thursday there was a slight improvement and the next morning I got a call from Imanul. “Sunil, Amina is much better since last night. We are taking some time out today, will you join us? We’ll go to Sreerampur and from there to Furfura Sharif and, if time permits, we’ll do a river cruise and come back via Naihati.”
Being preoccupied, I had to turn down the offer, though reluctantly. On Sunday morning, Imanul called. “Sunil, there is vast improvement in Amina&’s health. Throughout Friday, she behaved as if she had no ailment at all and on returning home that night, she insisted on having mutton curry and parathas, her favourite dish. And she tucked as she normally does. Please drop in with Tanu and Mumu and have lunch with us.”
“Wow, is it so?” I asked, his excitement infectious. “Unfortunately, I have visitors today, but enjoy, we’ll meet next week.”.
I kept monitoring the situation over my cell phone throughout the next week and happy tidings flowed in from the other end. Amina was now her usual healthy self. The following Sunday I told Imanul I would join them for lunch though Tanu and Mumu would not be able make it.
I reached his place around noon and the moment I stepped in Amina ran up and hugged me. Accepting my gift of chocolates, she kept narrating how she’d enjoyed their Friday jaunt. “You know, Uncle; the train journey to Sreerampur was exciting. There was no crowd at all in the coach. And the bus took us to Furfura in no time. The water in the pond we had a dip in was comfortably warm and though it was quite crowded we had no problem in getting inside the Majhar (shrine) to offer prayers. See, the Fakir Baba there gave me this talisman to wear around my neck. Isn’t it nice?”
I looked at the black metal talisman and said, “Yes, of course it is.”
Imanul and Ayesha had come into the living room by then. “Dada,” Ayesha said excitedly, “believe me, the moment she wore the talisman she looked completely changed. She jumped and ran circles around the tomb as if she had springs under her feet. And what to say, Dada, she is back to her joyful self again. It&’s a wonder, Dada, this small talisman has done for her what no doctor could.”
As if on cue, Amina continued, “Uncle, what a nice cruise we had from Chinsura Ghat to Naihati. I told Dad to have another to and fro, but it was getting late so we had to drop the idea…”
When we sat for lunch, I noticed Imanul watching his daughter devouring the biryani and kababs with much gusto, his own food forgotten, and I was no less happy to share the moment. Back home, when I related the incident to Tanu and Mumu, they were ecstatic.
The next weekend I dropped in at Imanul&’s house without informing him lest he insist on my family joining them for lunch. I had to push the buzzer twice before the door was opened. Imanul stood there glum-faced. He bade me enter in a nonchalant manner.
As I sat on a sofa, I could hear sobbing from inside. It was Amina. “Imanul, what&’s the matter?”
He did not answer but went inside and I could hear him shouting loudly, “Stop crying and tell me where the talisman is, where the hell have you thrown it? Come, come, tell me or I will lock you up in the attic.” The threat served only to step up the sobbing.
At this point, I was on my feet and called out, “Bhabi, what&’s the matter?”
Ayesha, dragging Amina by the arm, came into the living room followed by a worried Imanul. “Dada, this imp has taken the talisman from her around neck and won’t say where it is.”
I asked, “Amina, dear, please tell us what this is all about?”
She did not reply but went on sobbing. Suddenly Ayesha lost her patience and smacked the child. Her voice choked, the signs of that stinging slap etched on her teder cheeks, Amina broke into a heart-rending cry. I stepped forward and took her by the arm to appease her but she broke free and ran towards her study. She returned with a toy-chest and, still shaking with pain from the slap and sobbing loudly, placed it on the floor. She fished out her favourite Barbie doll from the jumble of toys and, hoisting it high in her unsteady hands, said, “That day I broke her arm… She fell hard when she slipped from my hand, so I have put the talisman round her neck She will recover soon…” She sobbed and hugged her doll.