I can feel the chill emanating from the soggy earth below me, as I lay down immobile slowly returning to my senses. I can feel the soft mud on my face and can taste the muddy water in my mouth. My breathing shallow, with a nauseating feeling that is making me dizzy. I try to open my eyes, but the initial consciousness overwhelms my mind as an unbearable pain shoots up my lower back through my spine into my brain. I let out a painful scream, but due to the muddy water in my mouth only a gurgling muffled yelp issue forth. Where am I? The sky is dark, and it is drizzling. A small streak of lightning tore through the clouds. The ringing in my ears has faded and I can hear the croaking of frogs, filling in the otherwise silence of the surrounding; a few soft groans every now and then. I try to move, but as I did so I can only feel my upper torso trying to struggle out of a heavy burden. I can neither feel my lower torso nor my legs! A sense of panic overcomes me and succumbing to the fear of the thought that something terrible has happened to me, I start crying. I cannot recollect correctly the past moments of my consciousness. I try to focus but I can’t, the pain below my upper torso shoots up again and I feel like I might faint again. I clench my fists and push them into the soft mud, my fingers clutching the muddy soil and my teeth grating, my eyes closed shut.
After a long time, I open my eyes again. I feel the lower torso go numb and as the pain has subsided considerably, I feel I can now focus my thoughts. I try to perceive my surroundings and recall the past events that has led to this circumstance. I feel a sticky fluid near the corner of my lips and below my nose. I slowly reach out my tongue and lick the corner of my lips. Salty and sweet; I know the taste of blood! When I was a child, if I accidentally happen to have cut my finger my mother and sister would suck the cut area to stop the blood before they applied the ointment; I did it myself too. Oh Sister! I reminisce now since slowly the curtain of amnesia is lifting before my eyes, I remember that today morning I had run to my sister with the request of allowing me to travel with others in the bus that was being arranged by the villagers to go for pandal hopping to Kolkata.
Everyone in Bengal awaits the arrival of Durga Puja, a holy festival of joy celebrating the victory of Goddess Durga representing the Good Force over Evil Mahishashoor. I received new clothes from my father for this occasion to wear during the puja days. I was already excited for the puja as we had a lot of fun in the local club among friends during these days, yet when the suggestion for the bus trip was projected, I was thrilled. It was Ashtami today and tomorrow on the day of Navami I would be in Kolkata enjoying the extravagant city celebrations that I miss in my village. I did not go to Kolkata for a long time since my board exams were there. However now that it is over and it is puja holidays, it was high time to venture out again into the city to praise its beauty and its amazing collection of cuisines that I would like to satisfy my palate with. The city was so different than where we live! We were three siblings and my elder sister was the immediate guardian to look after us and to whom we would go for permission, since mother would be busy in house-chores (we had a large joint family) and father was busy in his shop. I would not go to father anyways as that would mean the end of anything I premeditated. My sister heard my request and did think for a moment before she said “okay”. She told me to take care of myself and gave me a few notes from her purse out of her savings and brushed my hair affectionately. I adored her for she was not only supervising us but also was a rational and caring person. I held her chin up and said, “You are my Goddess Durga, Didi”! As she tried to pull my ear for teasing her, I ran downstairs to my mom and announced that I would be going to Kolkata with several others for pandal hopping in the evening bus that was to depart from the neighbourhood club. My mother was simple and affectionate. She never questioned the decision of my sister as she knew that my sister was quite responsible for her age. She nodded a “Yes” as she kept cooking the lunch. I hugged her lovingly with delight and touched her feet performing a Pranaam and went to meet my best friend Hari to ask him if he would like to join. While going out of the house I found my dad was in the shop. I sneaked out of the house making sure he would not notice as he might prohibit me from joining the amazing adventure that I was going to have. However, later in the day during lunch I found him already aware of my devices. Luckily, he had agreed to allow me on my journey as my mother and sister had reasoned with him. Even better, my best friend was also going.
As evening approached, I took my small bag and after embracing my sister and performing a Pranaam to my father and mother I went to the club where the bus was to depart soon for its destination. The bus was overloaded as people flocked in with the intent of experiencing the puja celebrations in the city. My friend Hari suggested it would be better to sit on the top of the bus (where in the luggage are generally kept). It was better than to enter the bus and get crammed for the four/ five hours journey. I agreed, as it was not only sensible to stay out of the overcrowded interior and breathe in fresh air but also to admire the scenic beauty of the road as we would travel along. I found many of our relatives also joined to board the bus. Several of my cousins were going too. I now realised why father agreed to my trip without creating any problem, as he knew that I would be watched upon by the elders. The people tried to fit inside the bus as we and few others climbed the ladder at the back of bus and got on top of it. We made ourselves space within the luggage and holding onto the side rails we comfortably sat. The bus started on its course and as it drove along the road, we had to feel the bumps because till the expressway the village road was full of potholes which was left after the floodwaters receded; the flood that had happened in July. However, the scenic beauty was mesmerizing as I saw in the twilight the small huts and the paddy fields flying past us. The distant sound of Bengali music playing in the solitary puja pandals in small neighbourhoods could be heard and with it came drifting the sound of Dhak, Sankha and Kasor-Ghanta (instruments typical in Bengali puja). We passed the local “Haatt” (village market in which one can find all the commodities from groceries and clothes to live animals for husbandry). The Haatt was closed and the open space looked deserted. But on a Haatt day the same place will be packed and bustling in trade. My school went past where I had to come cycling for eight kilometres from my home to attend my classes. I could hear a few people inside the bus merrymaking, singing the latest songs of a Bengali movie named Saptapadi, “E poth jodi na sesh hoy tobe kemon hoto tumi boloto” (If this road does not end, then how amazing it would be). The bus was now speeding in an almost empty road. It was now night and the headlights went on. The speed of the bus was too much and I heard people inside the bus complaining to the driver. However, he did not budge and went ahead with the speed. At one of the turns where we gradually leave the village road and come up towards the expressway, a road that crosses across the paddy fields elevated like a ramp with stone rails on two sides, I could feel the bus lose its control and it tumbled. An uproar aroused but it was too late as the bus steered too much to the side and broke the frail and cracked stone rails and fell below into the fields which was now cleared off the paddy but was muddy due to the rain. I tried to jump in the split second the bus was falling from the road, but someone grabbed me from my legs and pulled me back and as we fell the person who grasped onto me yelped, Hari! I could hear painful shrieks and screams coming from inside, and then the bus toppled over and stopped. All of this happened in a minute and yet each and everything seemed to happen for hours before the final halt. My lower torso was crushed beneath the heavy bus. I heard a few more painful screams and felt a sharp pang of pain tearing across my spine to my brain, I fainted!
I remember, I had met an accident and now I am in that same paddy field. I can now feel blood oozing out from my stomach sticky yet fluid, soaking my shirt. It is dripping out of the wound where the bus has crushed me, and a rail went into my body. I try to touch the region but then I feel the excruciating pain again and quickly remove my hand. I am feeling weak; I feel like sleeping. What has happened to Hari? Is he also trapped under the bus? I can not see one single person walking around or yelling for us to be rescued. Are all of them dead? I hear the croaks of the frogs that now try to overflow my senses. My head is reeling, and my eyes are now obscure. Wait! I can see my mother and my sister in our house, in the Kitchen cooking; their beautiful faces fill my mind and their sweet voice suppress the grumpy song of the frogs. I hear them speaking about me; I hear them say how they would prepare my favourite “Payasam and Luchi” (Rice custard and Flour bread) to surprise me on my return tomorrow night. I see my father calculating the day’s profit from his shop, he stops for a while and sees into my eyes; yet he does not see me and stares as if into empty space. I can see the small Diya (oil lamp) faintly burning in the Tulsimanch (sacred basil) that my sister has lighted like every evening. I feel a soft cushion below me, I can now lie down a little. Tired, I look at their faces and slowly close my eyes. I will rest now till tomorrow morning. I have been brought back home; I have been saved at last. Perhaps I was only dreaming!
As I open my eyes, I can see myself before me. What is this sorcery? I am lying still, on soft mud, eyes closed. A mixed expression of calm and pain on my face. I try to touch my other body, but I cannot; I cannot move this body as well. As if I have become fixated where I stand, watching the very scene of accident that I have experienced. Have I died? I can see clearly in the dark now and as I try to remember my family, my mother, father and my beloved sister, pictures assemble like a puzzle in front of my eyes. I can see a local telling my father about the accident that has happened last night. There is a loud scream as my mother came rushing down the stairs hearing about the incident. She slipped and fell down the stairs, her head hurt badly! My sister came running and tended to her with tears in her eyes and pain in her face as she is worried about me as well. My father sat down with his head between his knees. My uncle came in rushing and talked to the local. He immediately called out to some of the neighbouring youths and gave them specific instructions about how they should travel to the site of accident immediately and carry me to a hospital as soon as possible. He gave them a handful of money and bade them good luck and recited the name of our family Gods so that they help the family recuperate from the incident without any loss. Then he went on to console my family. The youths meanwhile went out and after travelling for a short distance entered a local brewery. They knew about the accident from the messengers who carried it to the families and from what they have comprehended is that the survivors are being taken to hospitals and rest are all dead. Hence, they did not want to go through confronting the gruesome scene and instead used the money on a few drinks which they thought was wisely utilised.
I can see the local hospital where I have been rushed in by the local rescuers and though I am having a faint pulse I am neglected and kept aside for treating later, since I have been brought in late and there were several injured patients who can be saved easily. Therefore, the few doctors scurry to provide them with the immediate treatment. When at last my turn arrives there is no life force remaining in me. The hospital was full of bodies and a few injured, some of whom have lost limbs; some lost their eyes or had a crushed face. I can see the family of my cousins lying under pall. The whole family, dead! I close my eyes and when I open it, I stand again at the site of the accident; blood splattered everywhere, organs and guts and pieces of brains, and a foul smell of rotten meat. I can see Hari, his body crushed underneath with only his head and hand sticking out as if to grab hold of me again. I can see the popped eyes that are protruding from their sockets due to the pressure; the horror on his face on meeting with Death.
Slowly everything turns into a radiant white light, a void where I stand stuck and remain so. I can feel remaining of my senses fleeting, my memory slowly erasing itself. I again see for a moment my sister, I hold her chin up and say, “You are my Goddess Durga, Didi”!
Then, there was oblivion!