Land of Soviet in the City of Kolkata.
Aliunshuka had a blanket, dark, stiff and prickly. Every time she wrapped it around, her bare skin itched. It itched till she kicked the blanket off to the floor.
She read this far and looked at Aliunsukha drawn on the other page. Almost her age. One tiny finger passed through her golden locks.
“She has such rosy cheeks! Maybe because she was angry!”
The little girl with fiery cheeks, in her bright night pajamas looked so familiar and yet so far away. The land of Soviet, the place where Aliunsuka belonged. She quickly jumped up from the bed like a cat and pulled out the Atlas from the cabinet. A dark brown cabinet which dad built under their ‘aalna’, an ugly, necessary furniture which all Bengali’s had before they learned to hang their daily wears on the hooks behind the bedroom doors.
The world map was at the last page.
Russia looked vast!!
A cold wind from somewhere blew inside the room. Kolkata has a handful of winter days. The city celebrates the sunshine at this time of the year. There are fairs, food and light woolen throws, soft and fluffy almost a fancy winter.
But somewhere far away, in the deep, knee stuck snow, Aliunshuka stacked the chopped wood at the barn.
Her cat looked at her from the window. Even he didn’t want to go out leaving the warmth of the fireplace.
The cows and the horses moved very little when the little figure opened the barn door. The hen perched on the wooden beams of the ceiling, their feathers puffed up trying to lock their body heat, snuggling close to each other. It was cold inside the barn filled with the heady mixed smell of the cattle.
Here she stopped reading.
She tried sniffing instead. A faint familiar odour floated in the memory. The summer breaks when she used to visit her village and her ‘jethaima’ (great aunt) asked her to place the bucket right under ‘Kali’s’ tummy, this same smell floated around. Little ‘Dhuli’, the darkest velvety cub softly said, ‘bahhh’ from under her arm, half hanging. He was a two day old baby goat and had the smell of the fresh cut grass on his coat.
She sniffed longer and smiled down at the picture drawn on the other side of the page.
The little girl, her golden locks covered under the scarf, stood on the floor of the barn and a bright beam of sunlight from the open door behind, sliced through the floor to lit up the animals around. Soviet looked familiar. Their family and their cattle, their green slopes hidden under the snow promising a yield when chill goes, the aroma of the sweet turnip cooked along with the broth on the earthen pot, all seemed so familiar wrapping an exotic blanket around them.
Their winters were long and unyielding and so were our scorching summer. Frozen or dried, the rivers are of no use. Aliunshuka stirred eagerly the same turnip broth and the ‘গোলা রুটি’, the dry bun, and looked always hungry like the little Lakkhi, who sat next to her grandpa’s plate full of stale rice soaked in water. She had the same dark eager eyes which never got bored of food.
She suddenly realized, the books were from the land of Soviet, but the tales were of India.
(Illustrations are copied from the book, ‘Stories for Children by Leo Tolstoy’)
(Artwork: Piu Mahapatra)
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