It was not long before that Binodini was known a happy go lucky girl amongst her peers. A young girl with big dreams , she was as bright and full of life like any Assamese girl. Jovial yet rooted to the Ahomiya culture. It soon would be season of festivities which Binodini loved. But little did she know then, how life will swirl her into the Binodini she is now…..
Bebejiya was a small village in a town called Tezpur , in Assam , a Northeastern state of India. Typical to an Assamese neighbourhood, Bebejia too had the typical aluminium roofed houses , beautiful verandas staring on the by lanes. And like a typical Assamese household, Binodini also started her day by helping her mother in sweeping the verandah.
Laid back yet full of vibrance is peculiar of the Assamese people and so was Binodini and her family of four ; which included herself , her parents and her kid brother Babu.
It was Rongali Bihu. Binodini’s favourite festival , as it marks the beginning of the festive season in Assam. Fun and frolic painted the sleepy village with moments of festivity. Binodini was all geared up with her basket of colours to spread her joy in the streets which painted her colourful childhood.
Binodini in Assamese literally means Joy. And so was the essence this young village girl. Joy to her , also included trips to the riverside of the mighty Brahmaputra. Evenings, Binodini and Babu ( her kid brother) went along the banks of Brahmaputra with their most perpetual companion, their father fondly addressed by them as Baba. A walk on the riverside also meant sweetmeats for each of them and a plate of the spicy Puchkas ( an Indian snack. Sabitri , their mother, could seldom join because of her work commitments.
Sabitri worked as a help in a shop at Tiniali. Tiniali which literally means a Y junction in Assamese, was close to their home. But she would be back only by dinner, as shops opened late and closed early, as is the conventional Assamese routine. Thus, an in between break meant monetary cut which Sabitri couldn’t afford, especially her dreams to resume her children’s education , couldn’t.
Sabitri was a hardworking lady and her modesty and compassion was evidently inherited by Binodini. As festivities also meant employers giving bonuses to hardworking employees, Sabitri’s employer wanted to reward her , for all the hardwork she had been doing. He asked her as to what would she prefer as a reward. The mother in Sabitri replied that she would ask her children and let him know.
Sabitri came home and told this to the family , who were overjoyed. Babu wanted toys and Baba suggested to take money instead. And as Sabitri eagerly looked at Binodini for a reply she found Binodini suddenly quiet and dreamy. Sabitri asked her, ” Binodini.. what is the matter , child? Don’t you want anything as a reward?”
Binodini replied,” Ma( Mother)! Ask for an umbrella..” and continued after a pause , “ these stubborn rains can stun us anytime, and you will still need to go to the shop. An umbrella will protect you from the vagaries of the weather. For how long will you get drenched for us ?”
Sabitri was speechless. The untold deep love between the daughter and mother seldom got expressed but when it did, it was unique and special for Sabitri. As if Sabitri’s guilt of discontinuing Binodini’s studies was not enough that Binodini would further add to Sabitri’s agony with profound and unconditional love. But one thing Sabitri was very certain , she will not let Binodini work as a labour, instead she would encourage her to learn a skill so that she can start her own business.
A day later Sabitri went to the shop only to find the shop owner awaiting her reply. She said,” Sahab(Sir), I need an umbrella.” The shop owner was surprised to hear this request from a mother of two children, instead of toys.
Nevertheless, Sabitri was rewarded with an umbrella. It was a big beautiful purple umbrella with a wooden handle. It was sturdy enough to face the strongest rains. Sabitri walked back home with her award in hand and pride in eyes waiting to see her daughter smile.
Binodini and Babu rushed to the verandah to see who one the bet? Sabitri had fulfilled who’s request? Binodini was overwhelmed to see the big purple umbrella and exclaimed,” Ma, it is so beautiful na? How beautiful will you look , when you will carry it wearing the violet mekhela ( Assamese traditional dress for women)!!
Sabitri chuckled seeing her young girl’s innocence and said,” Binodini, even you will look pretty my child carrying this umbrella.. this is as much yours as mine !”
And thought to herself thanking god in her heart,
‘Richest may be those who wore diamonds,
But luckiest are souls who had daughters.”
Rains arrived late this year.
Brahmaputra’s thirst quenched only in July. But rains grew heavier day by day. Thankfully, Sabitri still could walk to work because of the purple umbrella.
One evening, the clouds were unusually dark and swollen, when Binodini peeped out. In rains Baba avoided taking them to Brahmaputra.
Binodini made a concerning mention to Baba that the clouds looked peculiar. As she finished saying this rains started as if hell broke open.
It was past twilight now. Binodini went to light the oil lamp but the darkness of worry loomed as Sabitri was not yet back from the shop. The worry soon shadowed Baba too. Baba decided to go to the shop and get Sabitri.
Minutes turned hours as Binodini waited. Her anxiety only increased. But the rain had now calmed down.
Suddenly , Binodini heard some noise coming towards the veranda.
Darkness made her squint and she saw the purple umbrella flashing . Happiness ran in each nerve turning a still pose into a sprint to the gate.
But Binodini’s happiness soon coupled with tiny floods of tears from her eyes and by the time they trickled to her cheeks the sorrow had casted its shadows on the innocent face.
Sabitri lay bloodied in Baba’s hand and the purple clinging his collar. Binodini could not believe that her ever hustling mother today, lay motionless in her father’s arms.
The house which resonated with Binodini’s laughter soon was shattered with her wailing cries. Her Ma, her beloved Ma was not with her. All she was left with was, the Purple Umbrella.
Binodini , now 22 years old, has started working at Bijoy uncle’s tailor shop. She is his most trusted tailor for creativity as well as sincerity. And also her expertise in making umbrellas. But Bijoy uncle could not decipher, why Binodini always made purple umbrellas. He didn’t dare to ask , now a much quieter and stern Binodini. Not only Bijoy but other villagers used to also talk that Binodini is an exact replica of her Mother, especially when Binodini carried the purple umbrella. But there was a difference a real big difference. Sabitri used return after work to a chirpy home , but all Binodini returns to , is solitude. Few months after Sabitri’s demise, Baba had also passed away and Babu succumbed to an illness which couldn’t be treated due to lack of facilities and money.
Once Binodini returns from work she takes a bath and gets ready for her evening prayers. The beautiful lamp lit on the altar, now reflects not any deity but the purple umbrella kept on it.
The purple umbrella is the only idol now which Binodini worships. And Sabitri, her only deity…